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David Baxter

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Pew Research Report Finds No Cause for Alarm in Teen Social Networking Use
Monday, January 08, 2007

Internet safety seems to have dropped out of the limelight over the last several months. While not too long ago news reports made it sound as if MySpace and Facebook were the single greatest threat to our children's safety since terrorism, little has been written about the issue as of late. As the AP reports, a new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project is the one of first independent sources of information regarding social networking site usage by teens in America.

Overall, the stats weren't all that surprising, with 55% of teens reporting that they had created a profile on one of the social networking sites. Girls were slightly more likely to have used these sites, with 58% saying they did versus only 51% for boys. Older teens (15 to 17 years-old) were almost 20% more likely to have a profile than younger teens (12 to 14 years-old).

The report itself offers a great deal in the way of encouraging news. Teens who use social networking sites seem to be very aware of the security concerns involved as well as the measures available to them to prevent unintended usage. Only 1% of those teens surveyed were unsure whether their current profile was listed publicly or privately, which indicates that teens are making decisions about who can and cannot see their profiles. From the AP:

"One of the things to take away from this report should be a sense of 'the kids are alright,' says Steve Jones, a communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies new media. "It's clear that teens are not just willy-nilly using social networking sites and making themselves vulnerable to predators.​

The message in the media seemed to be one of "Oh no, predators will hunt down our children!" But the work put in here by the Pew study group indicates that teens are pretty savvy about their net usage, and perhaps savvier than the media or their parents have given them credit for. That being said, this one study does not signal the all-clear for internet usage by teens. It's still important for parents and other responsible adults to communicate the potential hazards and risks of interacting in the online world. The strengths and benefits of the web--it's ease of use, accessibility and endless memory--are also the things that make it a powerful tool for those who would do harm. This report provides some good news in the debate over internet safety. Now if only it would generate some headlines.
 

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