< Teens Care About Privacy Online

Transcript

Friday, December 02, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Teenagers are often thought of as careless when it comes to what they post online and in need of protection by adults. But a new study from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project suggests otherwise.

Mary Madden is a senior research specialist at the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Mary, welcome to On the Media.

MARY MADDEN:

Thanks so much for having me.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So how do the expectations teenagers have about privacy online compare to the expectations that adults have?

MARY MADDEN:

Well, most teens are taking active steps to manage their privacy and reputations online. Like adults, they may not always be as careful as they should be but we don't see evidence that suggests a complete generational shift in attitudes and practice.

More than half of teen social media users say they thought about posting something and then they thought about the potential future ramifications.

One thing we heard in our focus groups is that friending is often the first line of defense in managing privacy online. Just that act of deciding who you allow in your network is a very important step. Just 17 percent of teen social media users say that their profile is completely public.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

What does that mean?

MARY MADDEN:

For teens, the most popular social network is Facebook, and there is basically a general setting that allows everyone to see the things that you post. They tell us that, for the most part, they're restricting who sees their posts to friends only.

Teenagers, like adults, tend to set and forget. They want to choose a setting that allows them to not have to think about this, quite frankly, every time they want to post something. But they also have a variety of ways to customize and cloak their messaging on social media.

Teens use private messaging channels, they use slang, they used jokes that may only be understood by peers. So just because someone is posting something broadly to a network, it may not actually be intended for everyone in the network.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

What does your study suggest about the practice of sexting, which is something the media love to talk about. That's the creating, sharing and forwarding of nude or nearly nude images by teens. There are personal risks, and even legal risks, when kids do this. Are they aware of them?

MARY MADDEN:

What we found in this latest study is that just 2 percent of all teens ages 12 to 17 say they've sent a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video of themselves to someone else. Now, that represents about 3 percent of all teen cell users, and has remained stable since 2009.

They're, of course, much more likely to say that they have received one of these messages or images. However, it's still a small group. We're talking about one in six.

For the teen who may have been the subject of one of these messages or photos, it can be a horrifying experience. It can also get them into a lot of trouble. But we're not seeing evidence that this is incredibly pervasive.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

So what is the moral of the story [LAUGHS] of this study for parents who are listening right now?

MARY MADDEN:

This study was part  of a broader effort to look at the positive and negative experiences teens have on social network sites, and what kinds of guidance they receive about appropriate behavior online. So we felt that understanding the privacy choices that teens make was one part of that story. It helps us to understand the level of publicity that accompanies their interaction in these spaces.

And, for the most part, kids feel that these are mostly kind spaces. It's definitely a minority that are being directly targeted in these spaces. Most teens have witnessed some kind of mean or cruel behavior online, but few are experiencing it firsthand. Many of them are telling us that they stand up for their friends online. And many of them are talking to their parents about the things that they witness.

There are certainly bad actors in these spaces. But the good news is that teens are rising to the occasion.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Mary, thank you very much.

MARY MADDEN:

Thanks so much for having me.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

Mary Madden is a senior research specialist at the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.