Pew Internet Examines Social Networking (Spring 2007 Trust Magazine Briefing)

May 01, 2007

Blogs, podcasts—the new communications often classified as “citizen journalism”—are clearly affecting our society. But how? Who’s involved? Technology commentator Mark Glaser says that the answers involve a lot of guessing. (He hosts the PBS-supported blog MediaShift, “your guide to the digital media revolution.”)“But why rely on hunches and assumptions when there’s the Pew Internet & American Life Project,” he continues. “Every time an argument comes up around a hot new technology, Pew Internet is the authoritative source that can break through the hype with hard numbers.”

One hot topic is “social networking,” with the explosive growth of Web sites such as MySpace (founded in 2003) and Facebook (established in 2004). Here, people describe themselves through words, music, photos and videos, developing personal profiles that may attract a cyberspace following. This activity has grown from a niche pastime to one that reportedly involves (on MySpace alone) more than 150 million people worldwide, with some 230,000 joining daily.

According to the Pew Internet Project, 55 percent of Internet users from ages 12 through 17 in the United States participate; 70 percent of older girls have profiles. Yet 66 percent of teens restrict access to their information— countering the idea that “they’re plastering personal information over their profiles for anyone and everyone to read,” says Amanda Lenhart, who wrote the study with Mary Madden; both are senior research specialists at the project.

And what are the teens doing with their sites? Ninety one percent stay in touch with friends. Girls generally reinforce pre-existing friendships, while boys are more likely to make new friends or “flirt in the comfort of an online environment,” says Madden. The Pew Internet Project is an initiative of the Pew Research Center and can be found at www.pewinternet.org.

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