A TNS global survey entitled Digital World, Digital Life, has been released which probes online behaviour and perspectives. The survey results reveal that the majority of people who first make acquaintances over the Internet, have then gone on to arrange to meet at least one person face to face offline or to talk on the phone. Around 6 out of 10 (61%) of respondents have gone on to meet online acquaintances in person and over half (53%) have at least talked on the phone. The highest percentage of people meeting each other in person are in Germany (76%), Sweden (75%), France (75%), Denmark (74%), and Norway (73%). In these countries, respondents have met face-to-face with at least one person whom they first met online. Less than one quarter (23%) say they have never met in person, or phoned, anybody whom they first encountered online.
Conducted in 16 countries, Digital World, Digital Life examines online behaviour and perspectives around the world. More than 27,000 participants aged 18 to 55 years old were interviewed online to see how much of their social life is conducted online.
The results show that people also have friends and contacts that they have met online, yet don't know in person. Across all 16 countries, respondents state that slightly less than one third, that is 30% of their friends, are actually 'online' only (having never met face-to-face). Among Chinese respondents, 8 out of 10 (80%) have at least one 'online only' friend and four fifths (80%) of Korean respondents also have at least one such digital friend.
Digital World, Digital Life looked at whether people feel secure about the authenticity of identity of online friends. The results showed a clear sense of doubt. TNS asked respondents to indicate on a scale of 1 to 10 how much they agree with the statement 'You can never be sure of an online friend's true identity'. Well over a third (37%) of respondents across all countries stated that they strongly agreed (giving an 8, 9 or 10 out of 10) with the statement. The most suspicious respondents were in Germany (57%) and the most trusting the Koreans with less than one quarter (24%) agreeing with the statement.
Despite active online lives, face-to-face remains the preferred way of communicating with family members, partners, and friends. For family, face-to-face was still the main way of communicating, mentioned by 8 out 10 (82%) respondents as compared to mobile phone (68%) or fixed phone (64%). For partners, face-to-face (72%) is again first, with mobile phone (62%) second and texting (41%) in third place. For friends, 84% prefer face-to-face, although e-mail is in second place (78%), followed by mobile phone (77%).
There now appears to be a distinct role for digital methods of contact. TNS looked at differences across the globe and found that e-mailing was used as much as face-to-face for communicating with friends in the following countries: Canada (88% vs. 88%), France (87% vs. 85%), Finland (85% vs. 84%) and Italy (77% vs. 77%). In contrast, there are some countries in which the mobile phone is used more than face-to-face for communicating with friends. This is most pronounced in Korea where four fifths (80%) of respondents say that they communicate with friends by mobile phone, but only six out of ten (61%) say they communicate face-to-face with their friends.
Arno Hummerston, MD, TNS Global Interactive, said: "What comes out in this survey is that we are actively engaging with people online, but we haven't lost the knack for conventional social contact. At the same time, online acquaintances are real acquaintances. This is underlined by the high percentages of people who, having first met people online, go on to meet them in person or at least by talking on the phone. But behind that is the sense of worry among our respondents who clearly express concern about the true online identity of a friend."