The Pew Internet & American Life Project released new research (pdf) on May 21 detailing teens’ social media habits. Some of the most intriguing findings from the report include the burden of keeping up a highly maintained appearance, which has caused many teens to leave Facebook. Meanwhile, young people flock to social networking platforms like Twitter, which are less often referenced by future employers and college administrators, and involve less “drama” than Facebook.
Digital literacy expert and codirector of NetFamilyNews Anne Collier writes about the Pew survey in a blog post for the Christian Science Monitor, “Teens’ digital social activities, from the friendship- driven to the interest-driven kinds, are diversifying and segmenting.” She points to this quote from the Pew findings:
One of the most striking themes that surfaced… was the sense of a social burden teens associated with Facebook. While Facebook is still deeply integrated in teens’ everyday lives, it is sometimes seen as a utility and an obligation rather than an exciting new platform that teens can claim as their own.
The new research, based on focus group interviews and telephone surveys of 802 nationally representative teens ages 12-17 and their parents, found that while Facebook is still wildly popular and gaining among teenagers (the site registered an 11 percent increase among teen users between 2009 and 2012, when 81 percent of teens were on Facebook), Twitter is coming on strong. The percentage of teens using the site has tripled, from 8 percent to 24 percent between 2009 and 2012. Interestingly, Facebook saw a much sharper rise among parents, perhaps another reason for teens to flee.
The focus group interviews revealed teens’ hesitancy toward Facebook. "I think Facebook can be fun,” said a 14-year-old respondent, “but also it's drama central. On Facebook, people imply things and say things, even just by a like, that they wouldn't say in real life.
“I have two [Facebook] accounts,” said one 15-year-old. “One for my family, one for my friends.” Another noted, “I have a Facebook, a Tumblr, and Twitter. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter much.… I like Tumblr because I don’t have to present a specific or false image of myself and I don’t have to interact with people I don’t necessarily want to talk to.”
The results also show that teens are becoming savvier about pruning, or filtering out the comments and photos they feel could negatively affect the opinion of a teacher, future employer or college admissions officer. “The only time I've ever deleted a picture is because I'm applying for colleges,” said one 18-year-old, while another explained that having his boss as a friend on Facebook has made him more careful about what he posts online.
Despite teens’ savvy, there are still some blind spots. One-third of the teens surveyed admitted to having strangers among their “friends.” An additional 20 percent of those who use Facebook also said they post their cell phone numbers. In 2006, only two percent posted their phone numbers.
There may be a generational shift underway, however, in the level of concern about privacy. Many younger teens, ages 13 and 14, said they keep their profiles completely private or closely monitor what they choose to post online, while older teens seemed to show less concern for privacy settings in general. One 13-year-old said, “I feel like I kind of just have a filter in my brain. I just know that's not a good idea [to post revealing content].”
Regardless of age, it is strikingly clear that teens seem to show little distrust for third-party advertisers and their ability to access personal information via social media networks. “I don’t believe that [Facebook] would do anything with my info,” said a middle schooler. A high school student said, “I don’t know if Facebook gives access to others. I hope not.”
It’s sentiments like those that remind educators and parents just how crucial digital literacy education is for students. It’s great that teens seem to be becoming savvier with their digital footprint by controlling what they post, but the results of this survey show that there are still a big need to teach teens how to better manage their online privacy settings and control who has access to their personal information.