Number of virtual friends double
The average person has double the amount of online friends than physical ones, a study has revealed.
And people tend to be more open, confident and honest with their virtual friends than their "real" counterparts.
The study, commissioned by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, shows that people typically have 121 online friends compared with 55 physical friends.
The research revealed that the internet provides a vital lifeline to people unable to physically socialise as much as they would like.
Helen Oxley, consultant clinical psychologist at Manchester Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre, Wythenshawe Hospital, said: "For most people, the internet is a way of keeping in touch with loved ones and friends but for people who are isolated due to illness, it plays a more vital role and can often act as a lifeline.
"In wider society, the ways in which friendships are formed and nurtured is changing with people recognising that they can develop deep, meaningful connections with others that they've never met, and may never meet.
"People with illnesses often rely on the internet's ability to facilitate friendships as they blog and use networking sites as a way of coming to terms with, and dealing with their illness. It can foster a sense of social connection for those who can frequently feel isolated, which is important to psychological wellbeing."
The results also reveal that 30% of those quizzed spend at least two hours on social networks interacting with friends, and one in 10 people has either met their best friend online or believe they will meet lifelong friends on the web.
The findings highlight how social introductions are also changing. Only 5% would ask for someone's phone number whereas 23% are more likely to ask for an email address or a full name with the intention of adding them on a social network.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, said: "Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a life-threatening inherited disease which affects the whole body, primarily the lungs and digestive system. The social aspect of the web is very important to many people with CF, especially those who are no longer able to get out and about easily for various reasons."