Teens Sharing Online—but Carefully (Summer 2013 Trust Magazine)

Source Organization: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Author: Michael Remez

// - American teens may be sharing more information than ever about themselves on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but many are also taking steps to control their reputations online.

A new report from the Pew Research Center finds that Facebook continues to dominate the world of social networks for teenagers, but there are signs that interest in it may be starting to wane. Three-quarters of online teens—77 percent—have a profile on the social network site. Though Facebook use has changed little recently, Twitter use is rising quickly among online teens—from 8 percent in 2009, to 16 percent in 2011, to 24 percent in the most recent survey. And teens say they are also connecting with friends through other social media applications including Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat.

The report, “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy,” by the center’s Internet and American life project includes a detailed look at how teens use the social networks, what they choose to share, and what steps they take to protect their online reputations. Focus groups conducted by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, which collaborated on the report, indicate growing discontent with Facebook. Teens say they dislike the increasing adult presence on the site, the excessive sharing by friends, and the stressful overload of “drama.” Still, they say they keep using Facebook because it has become an important part of overall teenage socializing.

Most online teens control what others can see about them on Facebook and are confident they can manage security settings. Of those who use the social network, 6 in 10 say their profile is set to private, so only their friends can see it. Another 25 percent have a partially private profile. Twitter users, however, are more likely to keep their tweets public—64 percent do not limit who can see their tweets.

Few teens—just 9 percent of those using social media—say they are “very concerned” about businesses or marketers gathering information about them online. Their focus is more on how they appear to peers and others, such as college admissions offices or coaches. In contrast, 46 percent of parents say they are “very concerned” about third parties gaining access to information about their children.

“Adults expect teens to have the same conceptions and concerns that they have about privacy, but teens’ lives are really very different from adults’ lives,” says Amanda Lenhart, who directs the study of teens and technology at Pew Research Center. Teens, she says, are “worried more about the people who directly affect their lives.”

Many teens take steps to shape their reputations and mask content they don’t want others to see. For instance, 59 percent of teen social media users have deleted or edited a post they put up earlier, 53 percent have deleted comments by others, and 43 percent have removed a tag identifying them on a photograph.

The Pew Research Center’s internet project examines the impact of the Internet and technology on society.

Michael Remez

For more information, go to pewinternet.org.

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