The Internet as social ally

Amy Tracy Wells, Lee Rainie


How do people use the internet to solve problems? Employing quantitative and qualitative data from two surveys, one in which a random selection of the U.S population responded and one in which a self-selected group of people responded, we argue that individuals use different sources and channels to seek information and assistance, depending on the problem they face. We find that a significant portion of online Americans turn to the internet at times because it seems to fulfill their needs more readily and thoroughly than the people in their community network do. We present evidence of when people use the internet versus seeking the assistance of friends and family and possible reasons for this behavior. This research demonstrates how, to what extent, when and why the internet supplements people’s lives.

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