Facebook waning, social media may have plateaued among teens, Pew study says
A huge update on our knowledge of teens and social media was released by Pew Research Center today. It's findings include some surprising info: Facebook use among teens is waning, teens do, in fact, value their privacy online, and a majority have friended their parents.
Contrary to how they’re typically represented in the news media, “few teens embrace a fully public approach to social media,” Pew Internet reports in a major new study, “Teens, Social Media and Privacy.” Yes, they share more about themselves than we did as teens, but “they take an array of steps to restrict and prune their profiles.”Skip to next paragraph
Anne Collier is editor of NetFamilyNews.org and co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a Web-based interactive forum and information site for teens, parents, educators, and everybody interested in the impact of the social Web on youth and vice versa. She lives in Northern California and has two sons.
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Pew turned up a lot of intelligence on teens’ part, where safety, privacy and reputation management are concerned, bearing out findings in Canada last fall. Here are some key findings of this important research, Pew’s first in-depth look at teens’ online privacy since 2007:
- “The frequency of teen social media usage may have reached a plateau” – the number of teens social media users who check their pages “‘several times a day’ hasn’t changed in any significant way since 2011,” Pew says.
- Teens’ Twitter use is up significantly, from 16% of US 12-to-17-year-olds in 2011 to nearly a quarter (24%) now, and African American teens use Twitter significantly more than white teens – 39% vs. 23%, respectively.
- “The typical (median) teen Facebook user has 300 friends, while the typical teen Twitter user has 79 followers” (and Pew found that teens “don’t always think of Twitter as a social networking site,” though the authors didn’t say what they do think Twitter is).
- Online mirrors offline: “Teens’ Facebook friendship networks largely mirror their offline networks” (which should further reduce the speculative “stranger danger” fears of the previous decade and its national task forces [see this]). “Unwanted contact from strangers is relatively uncommon, but 17% of online teens report some kind of contact that made them feel scared or uncomfortable,” Pew said, adding in a footnote, thought that its question did not reference sexual solicitations, so respondents could’ve been referring to a wide array of concerning behaviors or interactions.
- A whopping 70% of teen Facebook users say they’re friends with their parents on FB, and 91% of teen Facebook users are friends with members of their extended family.
- Their use of Facebook is “waning.”
- We knew this, but it’s important confirmation: “60% of teen Facebook users keep their profiles private [note that Pew's not just saying that 60% use privacy settings], and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings.” On Twitter, thought, nearly two-thirds (64%) of teens tweet publicly, which is typical for adult Twitter users too.
- “Teens take other steps to shape their reputation, manage their networks, and mask information they don’t want others to know: 74% of teen social media users have deleted people from their network or friends list”; 58% “share inside jokes or cloak their messages in some way” (see this about “social steganography” from researcher danah boyd); 26% post false information like a fake name, age, or location to help protect their privacy (see this about “fictionalizing profiles” as a safety measure).
- Teens with larger friend networks on Facebook also use more social apps and services other than Facebook. They also share more information and media while at the same time show more care with “profile pruning” and reputation management.
- Teens’ concern about advertisers’ access to their information is low: “just 9% say they are ‘very’ concerned”; 40% are somewhat *or* very concerned, while 81% of parents are somewhat or very concerned about this for their children. Pew adds that “teens who are concerned about third-party access to their personal information are also more likely to engage in online reputation management.”