- - Tuesday, May 21, 2013

America’s teens appear to be catching on to the fact that writing up their latest beer-pong triumph or their true feelings about their Spanish teacher on their Facebook page may not be such a great idea.

A new Pew Research Center study released Tuesday suggests that younger Web users are no longer naively revealing personal details to the world through social media profiles, continuing to post a wealth of data but becoming more savvy about who gets to see it.

The report, entitled “Teens, Social Media and Privacy” and conducted with Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, found that teens are sharing more personal details online — but also making more of an effort to protect their information using privacy settings.

The survey of 802 young people ages 12 to 17 found that more were willing to post details such as their school name, city of residence, email address, interests, relationship status and a personal photo than a comparable group surveyed in 2006.

Sandra Cortesi, a researcher at the Berkman Center, said focus group sessions with 156 young people ages 11 to 19 found that they are using a “filter in their brain” when deciding what to post, due to awareness of possible consequences imposed by adults on Facebook.

“This awareness is a motivation for teens to self-regulate the distribution of content [and] results in self-censoring,” Ms. Cortesi said.

Teens are also taking other steps to control their personal details by deleting previous posts, removing their names from photos, “unfriending” or blocking specific users and even deactivating entire accounts.

The survey also reveals some demographic differences in teen social media use.

The good news is teens apparently are becoming less enthusiastic about overshared and dramatic content on Facebook, but they continue to use the platform as “an important part of overall teenage socializing.”

The bad news is that, despite plentiful cautionary tales, many teens seem uninterested and unaware about third-party access to their personal information. Only 9 percent said they were “very concerned” about businesses or advertisers having access to their information without their knowledge. In the focus groups, some middle- and high-school students believed Facebook would not share their information with others.

The survey, which has a margin of error of 5.1 percent, found that just 4 percent of U.S. teens said they had posted sensitive information online that had caused trouble for themselves or their families, and another 4 percent said they have revealed something on a social media site that got them into trouble in school. More than half — 57 percent — said they refrained from posting something online out of fear that it would reflect badly on them in the future.

The Pew focus groups also charted the ambivalent charms of Facebook, the ubiquitous social media giant, and the growing attraction of alternatives such as Twitter and Instagram.

“Many teens expressed a waning enthusiasm for Facebook,” the report notes. “They dislike the increasing number of adults on the site, get annoyed when their Facebook friends share inane details, and are drained by the ‘drama’ that they described as happening frequently on the site. The stress of needing to manage their reputation on Facebook also contributes to a lack of enthusiasm.”

Still, “the site is still where a large amount of socializing takes place, and teens feel they need to stay on Facebook in order not to miss out.”

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