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Forget face-to-face chats, Brits prefer 'cyber friendships'

Monday, February 22nd 2016 by Ellen Branagh

The ‘cyber friendship’ is on the rise in the UK, with half of Britons preferring to stay in touch with friends digitally rather than face-to-face, according to new research.

Research by BT Mobile also found that 79% of Brits admit they have friends they wouldn’t stay in touch with if it weren’t for social media, while a further 72% said social media has strengthened their friendships.

The research, carried out across a nationally representative panel of nearly 2,000 adults in January, looked at the growth in ‘cyber friendships’ that is seeing each person in the UK sending an average of 11,315 texts a year, 1,092 picture messages and 6,935 WhatsApp messages.

Brits are also increasingly sharing content with our ‘digi-friends’, with one in 10 of us sharing more than 50 videos a week.

Facebook tops the list of ways we keep our cyber friendships alive (80%), followed by email (67%) and then text (63%), the research found.

It also looked at the geographical breakdown of the rise in digital friendships that is driving the need for faster connections and access to data wherever we are.

According to the research, Manchester residents have the most ‘digi-friends’, with an average of nearly 200 digital friendships based on their connections on social media.

In contrast those in Edinburgh were most likely to conduct their friendships face-to-face, with the average person having 144 ‘digi-friends’.

In Sheffield, residents rely the most on digital friendships, with 53% admitting to having friends they wouldn’t stay in contact with if it wasn’t for social media.

'Social animals'

According to the research, Londoners are most likely to use WhatsApp to connect with their circle of digital friends, sending an average of 28 messages a day to friends and family.

Facebook was most popular in Cardiff, with residents sending an average of 16 messages and comments per day.

And Liverpool was more of a Twitter heaven, with Liverpudlians tweeting an average of eight times a day, the highest of all UK cities.

According to the research, these three cities are the most connected in the UK, as each also make over 36 calls to friends and family each week.

BT Mobile conducted the research with former Oxford University lecturer and Big Brother and Body Talk psychologist Dr Peter Collett, looking at how people are moving away from traditional ways of staying in touch and how the psychology of friendship in the digital age has changed.

Dr Collett said: “By nature, humans are social animals. Given that so much of our enjoyment is linked to other people, it’s hardly surprising that we invest so much time and effort into keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances.

“New digital communications have made it even easier for us to express our true nature, and the research that BT Mobile has conducted uncovers some really interesting new trends of the cyber friendship.”

The research uncovered a new etiquette that has developed with the rise of cyber friendship, including a range of ‘golden rules’ for digital communication.

They included never using a professional platform like LinkedIn to chat someone up, never texting bad news, and wishing good friends happy birthday via text rather than just Facebook.

Kelly Barlow, director of voice and mobile at BT Consumer: “With such a wide variety of ways to stay in touch on offer, it’s no wonder we have seen a rise in digital friendships.

“We know that staying in touch with digi-friends is made much easier through fast, reliable connections, and BT Mobile’s combination of over 5m wi-fi hotspots and access to the biggest 4G network in the UK allows customers to ensure they’re able to keep up cyber friendships wherever they are.”

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