‘Spin control’ in social media: Getting smarter, study shows

By Anne Collier

Interesting: We’re getting smarter about our online spin control, especially the younger Net users among us, but apparently not because we’re getting more concerned about our online reputations. According to Pew/Internet’s latest report, “Reputation Management & Social Media,” “Young adults, far from being indifferent about their digital footprints, are the most active online reputation managers in several dimensions. For example, more than two-thirds (71%) of social networking users aged 18-29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online” and are more likely to do so than older users (55% of SN users aged 50-64 have changed their settings).

As if in response to the recent Facebook privacy flap, Pew says that users are learning personal info management “as they go – changing privacy settings on profiles, customizing who can see certain updates, and deleting unwanted information about them that appears online.” Those privacy features, along with search engines to check what peers see when they search for you, “now play a central role in building one’s identity online,” writes the report’s lead author and Pew senior research specialist Mary Madden.

Privacy settings & other steps: In addition to changing privacy settings, here are other ways 18-to-29-year-old social Web users are outshining older ones in rep management:

* 44% limit the amount of personal information they put online, compared to users aged 30-49 (33%), 50-64 (25%), and 65+ (20%)
* 47% delete unwanted comments, compared to 29% of users 30-49 and 26% of users 50-64
* 41% remove their name from photos tagged with their name, compared to 24% of users 30-49 and 18% of users 50-64.

Less concern. Maybe getting smarter means less worry: “Over time,” Pew found, “users have become less likely to express concern about the amount of information available about them online,” Pew says. A third (33%) of Net users are concerned now, down from 40% in December 2006.

Fewer missteps. Pew says that what may be contributing to decreasing concerns is that “very few Internet users have experienced reputational missteps online.” It found that “only 4% of internet users report having bad experiences because embarrassing or inaccurate information was posted about them online (unchanged since 2006),” and “just 6% of highly visible ‘public personae’ … required to self-promote online” report bad experiences (see this page of the report).

What are they doing about it? Eighteen percent of 18-to-29-year-old Net users have asked someone to delete something posted about them online, compared to 8% of Net users overall (and the latter is twice the number of users who report having embarrassing or inaccurate info posted about them).

How’s that going? Very well, Pew says. “Fully 82%” of Net users who have requested that content about them be taken down “say their efforts are usually effective, compared to 17% who say they are not usually successful at getting information about them removed (Pew found that 76% of that content is photos or videos, and 37% was some sort of written content, like a comment or blog post).

Negotiating spin. Though this is about “spin control,” in the way political consultants try to manage perceptions, it’s not about control anymore. Everybody’s inner political consultant (or spin doctor) is now operating in a media environment in which spin control has become spin negotiation. The high “success rate” (82%) Pew reports for getting negative content taken down is encouraging – a sign that negotiated, or collaborative, reputation management can gets results.

Parenting. As for us parents, those of us missing the days when kids didn’t have to be our own best spin doctors (though some of us were pretty good at it), being alert about what they put online doesn’t mean obsession. It means mindfulness, not never being able to step away from the social grid. There can be parent-encouraged down time and balance, of course, but mindfulness is good in a highly connected world.

Related links

* Meanwhile, we do need to be thinking about all this. Google vice president Marissa Mayer said in a presentation last August “that the average person uploaded 15 times more data in 2009 than they did just three years ago,” ReadWriteWeb.com reports in “The Coming Data Explosion.”
* “Parenting & the digital drama overload”
* New tool for monitoring digital footprints
* “Not actually ‘extreme teens'”
* “Social networkers = spin doctors (hopefully)”
* “Online spin control”

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