Just Between Friends

Survey Shows Habits of Young Social Networkers
by: Jerry Liao

The reason why Time Magazine voted “YOU” as the Person of the Year is because of social networking sites, an online place where a user can create a profile and build a personal network that connects him or her to other users. In the past five years, such sites have rocketed from a niche activity into a phenomenon that engages tens of millions of internet users. The explosive growth in the popularity of these sites has generated concerns among some parents, school officials, and government leaders about the potential risks posed to young people when personal information is made available in such a public setting.

So why is social networking sites so populars not only among kids but for the internet community? The Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a a new national survey of teen-agers to determine the reason behind this explosive growth. The survey reveals that more than half (55 percent) of all of online American youths ages 12-17 use online social networking sites, that older teens, particularly girls, are more likely to use these sites. For girls, social networking sites are primarily places to reinforce pre-existing friendships; for boys, the networks also provide opportunities for flirting and making new friends.

Among the key findings:

– 55 percent of online teens have created a personal profile online, and 55 percent have used social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook.

– 66 percent of teens who have created a profile say that their profile is not visible to all Internet users.

– 48 percent of teens visit social networking websites daily or more often; 26 percent visit once a day, 22 percent visit several times a day.

– Older girls ages 15-17 are more likely to have used social networking sites and created online profiles; 70 percent of older girls have used an online social network compared with 54 percent of older boys, and 70 percent of older girls have created an online profile, while only 57 percent of older boys have done so.

– 91 percent of all social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently, while 82 percent use the sites to stay in touch with friends they rarely see in person.

– 72 percent of all social networking teens use the sites to make plans with friends; 49 percent use the sites to make new friends.

– Older boys who use social networking sites (ages 15-17) are more likely than girls of the same age to say that they use social networking sites to make new friends (60 percent vs. 46 percent).

– Just 17 percent of all social networking teens say they use the sites to flirt.

– Older boys who use social networking sites are more than twice as likely as older girls to say they use the sites to flirt; 29 percent report this compared with just 13 percent of older girls.

The data memo, written by Senior Research Specialists Amanda Lenhart and Mary Madden, is based on a survey conducted by telephone from October 23 through November 19, 2006 among a national sample of 935 youths ages 12 to 17. The survey asked about the ways that teen-agers use social networking sites and their reasons for doing so.

Among 12 and 13 year olds, 37% report creating an online profile, while 63% of teens ages 14-17 have posted a profile. Breaking the data down further, older girls are the most avid users of social networking sites, and are more likely to have posted a profile online. Seven out of ten (70%) online girls 15-17 have created a profile, compared with 57% of older boys.

The vast majority of online teens (more than 9 out of 10) who said they had used social networking websites also said that they had a profile online. However, about 4% of online respondents said the profiles they use most often are posted somewhere other than on a social networking site.2 Conversely, nearly 5% of online teens who reported use of a social networking site said they had not posted a profile online, which suggests that there is a very small subset of visitors to social networking websites who merely view the profiles of others and do not create profiles of their own.

MySpace dominates the social networking world Fully 85% of teens who have created an online profile say the profile they use or update most often is on MySpace, while 7% update a profile on Facebook. Another 1% tend to a primary profile on Xanga. Smaller numbers told us they have profiles at places like Yahoo, Piczo, Gaiaonline and Tagged.com. While the vast majority of profile creators update MySpace profiles most often, there are some differences between boys and girls in the sites they choose to use. Young men are more likely than young women to say they use MySpace most often (90% of boys who have created profiles use the site, compared with 81% of girls). Conversely, teen girls are more likely than boys to say that they use Facebook most often; just 4% of boys who create profiles use Facebook as their primary account compared with 9% of girls. Among older girls who have profiles (ages 15-17), the percent using Facebook as their primary account rises to 12%.

MySpace and Facebook are both social networking sites, but they are very different types of social networking systems. MySpace is open to anyone, and has loose age restrictions; in essence, users can create whatever type of profile and network there that they choose. Until shortly before this survey was conducted, Facebook was arguably a more “closed” system than MySpace.3 High school students could only be added into their high school’s network by a group of other students who verified them as members of that school community. In Facebook, users are encouraged and often required to register using their real name, effectively connecting the user with their offline identity. Even with the new level of openness that Facebook allows, it is still primarily organized around real-world physical communities first college campuses and later high schools, employers and geographic regions. All of these factors may contribute to the fact that a small contingent of girls, particularly older girls, prefer the Facebook-style system over the more open MySpace environment.

The most popular way of communicating via social networking sites is to post a message to a friend’s profile, page or “wall.” More than 4 in 5 social network users (84%) have posted messages to a friend’s profile or page.

Another very popular activity is sending private messages to a friend within a social networking system a sort of internal email. Fully 82% of social networking site users have sent a private message within the system. Three out of four online social network users have posted a comment to a friend’s blog, and more than six in ten (61%) social network users have sent a bulletin or group message to all of their friends in their online social network. Fewer social networking teens have used the wink, poke, “e-props” or kudos features of various social networks, with just 33% saying they have done that online. Girls (89%) are somewhat more likely than boys (79%) to post comments to a friend’s profile page or ‘wall.” Much of the difference between boys and girls lies with younger boys, of whom only 74% have posted to a wall within a social networking site.

The Pew Internet Project survey has a margin of error in the overall sample of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

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