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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Responsible social networking: Mounting evidence

Responsible social networking: Mounting evidence

A clearer picture of how teens use the social Web has emerged from studies released in the past month, including this week's "data memo" on teen social networking from the Pew Internet & American Life Project . Here's a sampler, starting with Pew....

More than half (55%) of US 12-to-17-year-olds use social sites, and 48% use them at least daily, according to just-released research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. And echoing the basic message of an academic paper given last week (see this news item), Pew's findings should ease some concerns: 66% of teens who have created a profile say it's not publicly visible and - Internet News reports - "most teens use the sites to map their offline social networks in an online environment - 91% of all social-networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently [not to meet strangers], while only 49% use the sites to make new friends" (parents and teens should probably work on bringing that number down further, unless the "new friends" are peers and friends of friends). Pew found this practice of socializing mostly with "real life" friends was especially true of girls. For them, "social-networking sites are primarily places to reinforce pre-existing friendships; for boys, the networks also provide opportunities for flirting and making new friends" (see numbers below).

"C'mon, let's give these kids a little credit," Pioneer Press in Minnesota suggests in its coverage of the Pew study, and I suspect that sentiment will spread in 2007. These numbers help parents get a more balanced picture than we had amid all the scary hype about sexual predation last year. Predators are there (and MySpace and lawmakers are working on that front), but for the most part kids are ignoring them. Pioneer Press tells of two 16-year-olds who represent Pew's 45% of US teens who don't use sites like MySpace, Xanga, Facebook, or Sconex, probably mostly because they're too busy! In its coverage, though, the Associated Press led with a 17-year-old who said MySpace was her "lifeline" when she moved to a new town last summer. "Guys ask her for her MySpace address more often than her phone number," the AP reports. It also cites a University of Illinois professor as saying "the kids are alright."

Highlights from Pew....

  • 66% of teens who have created a profile limit access to it, and the majority of them know the difference between a public and a private profile.
  • 70% of older girls (15-17) have used a social site vs. 54% of older boys; among 12-to-14-year-olds, more boys (46%) use these sites than girls do (44%).
  • The most popular form of communicating in social sites is posting messages or comments on friends' pages, profiles, or "walls" (84%); sending private messages to friends in the sites (82%); commenting on a friend's blog (75%); and posting bulletins to all their friends (61%).
  • 91% of all social-networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently and 82% to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person (e.g., those out of state).
  • 72% use the sites to make plans with friends, 49% to make new friends.
  • Older boys (15-17) are more likely than older girls to use social sites to make new friends (60% vs. 46%).
  • "Just 17% of all social networking teens say they use the sites to flirt," Pew says.
  • Older boys (29%) are more than twice as likely as older girls (13%) to use the sites to flirt.
  • As for which sites, 85% of teens who have created profiles say MySpace is their main one, 7% Facebook, and 1% Xanga.
  • 68% of US teens use instant messaging, Internet News cites Pew researcher Amanda Lenhart as saying.

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