Study: Some teens feel ‘obligated’ to use Facebook – most savvy about privacy

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A new study by the Pew Research Center has good and bad news for Facebook’s role as a teen destination.  The report, Teens, Social Media and Privacy, shows that Facebook’s popularity with teens has actualy grown by 1% since 2011 to a whopping 94% of all teen social media users. The next highest service is Twitter (26%) followed by Instagram, the photo-sharing mobile app that Facebook acquired last year. Tumblr, which was just acquired by Yahoo for $1.1 billion, came in 6th with 5% — actually below MySpace if you can believe that.

Source: Pew Internet Parent/Teen Privacy Survey, July 26-September 30, 2012

The bad news, according to the report, is that “Focus group discussions with teens show that they have waning enthusiasm for Facebook, disliking the increasing adult presence, people sharing excessively, and stressful drama.”  Still, “they keep using it because participation is an important part of overall teenage socializing.”  The authors went so far as to report a “sense of a social burden teens associated with Facebook,” adding, “it is sometimes seen as a utility and an obligation rather than an exciting new  platform that teens can claim as their own.” While the Pew Research fielded the survey, the focus groups were conducted by Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

The issue of adult presence on Facebook has come up in some of my conversations with teens.  In her blog post about the Pew survey, Anne Collier (who is my co-director at pointed out the futility of trying to keep abreast of everything your kids do online.  ”Trying to monitor teens’ activities by setting up an account in every online service and app they use in a kind of whack-a-mole approach to tech parenting won’t ultimately keep parents abreast of their kids’ digital activities for the simple reason that the more we monitor, the more likely they are to move on.”

Most teens are privacy savvy

The gist of the report focused on teen privacy and the good news for those worried about today’s youth is that kids are actually a lot smarter than many adults give them credit for.  The report does point out that “teens are sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than they did in the past,” but that 60% of teen Facebook users keep their profiles private, and “most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings.” Girls  are a lot more likely than boys to have a private (friends only) profile (70% vs. 50%).

It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of teens (91%) post photos of themselves while most post their school name and home town.   A slim majority (53%) post their email address and a fifth of the teens post their cell phone number.

Photo sharing and disclosing locality and school has become integral to the use of Facebook and experts no longer consider it particularly dangerous.

A study conducted by the Crimes Against Children Research Center “has shown that simply posting or sending some personal information online does not put youth at risk,” according to a Fact Sheet published by the Center.

Source: Pew Internet Parent/Teen Privacy Survey, July 26-September 30, 2012. n=802 teens ages 12-17

If you want to know more about teen privacy and safety

If I may take a point of personal privilege, the non-profit Internet safety organization where I serve as co-director, today published two new parents’ guides to Instagram and Snapchat. These free guides, along with our parents’ guides to Facebook and Google+ can be found here.  Our website has lots of tips on privacy, safety and reputation management  in social media.

Listen to a 10-minute interview with the study’s co-author Amanda Lenhart

To hear my 10-minute CBS News/CNET podcast with Amanda Lehnart, senior researcher at Pew Research Center and co-author of report,  scroll down to the bottom of this CNET post.

Disclosure: I serve as co-director of, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives some of its support from Facebook

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