Do You Want To Know A Secret?


Do you want to know a secret?
Do you promise not to tell?

Do You Want To Know A Secret, The Beatles

A few days ago, the Pew Internet And American Life Project released a detailed report on Teens, Social Media and Privacy. Worth reading whether you’re a teen or a parent. Especially worth reading if you’re a parent.

I’m not going to go through in detail here: those of you who are interested will read the whole report anyway, and those who only want a useful summary will probably be better off reading danah boyd’s excellent post on the subject.

So this is not a summary. Instead, I’m just sharing some of the findings that I found remarkable, in the sense of their being worth remarking on.

  • While I’d seen some research on it, and noticed some things anecdotally, this was the first time the issue of race-based divisions in social media really stood out for me. Twitter usage in general stood out, as did “following” and friending habits in the context of celebrities. That made me think even more about the importance of role models.
  • I wasn’t surprised to see that teens were largely comfortable with handling their Facebook privacy settings, but I didn’t expect to see that 70% of teens are Facebook friends with their parents. All three of my children have friended me, two are no longer teens but remain friends; I had the impression that the number friending their parents was lower than 70%; perhaps I hadn’t allowed for a difference between voluntary and enforced friendship.
  • It was good to see that over half the teens say they have had “an experience online that made them feel good about themselves” …. too often, I hear the opposite, stories about bullying and victimisation. As with most technologies, there are both good and bad ways to use social media.
  • Interestingly, while they restrict access to “friends only” they don’t really bother to differentiate within that; it may be that they don’t think it’s worth the effort.
  • For some time now, I’ve known that people have “Facebook birthdays”, separate and distinct from their real birthdays. I have occasionally wished a colleague only to be greeted with a bemused look, and, upon investigating, realised they’d put up a fictitious date of birth on Facebook. It appears that teenagers have learnt to do this, and related stuff.
  • I was delighted to learn that they prune their presence regularly, removing social objects that hadn’t received enough positive feedback, reviewing their friend lists, and so on.
  • I was also intrigued to know that they’ve learnt to hide in plain sight, use coded messages in the open.

Overall a fascinating report. I may write a longer post when I finish reading it twice over, something that is likely to happen when I fly to Sydney at the end of this week.

Let me know what you think, and if you’d like me to cover or comment on something specific in the report.

3 thoughts on “Do You Want To Know A Secret?”

  1. Hiding in plain sight, often a characteristic of teen communication (passing coded notes in class). Facebook birthdays, another teen trait (false DOB to go clubbing).

    However, I think, the combination of salient points could illustrate a fundamental flaw in Facebook’s core design — overdoing identity and the social graph (perhaps in a short cut to drive revenue). Boring teens and driving them to cooler places with more coded identities to spend time: Twitter, Tumblr, Waze, WhatsApp (although teens may come back to FB for family from time-to-time).

    The research paper — Talking in Circles: Selective Sharing in Google+ explains why cooler less graphed places builds communities independent of social graph.

    Talking in Circles and Sharing, I think we see this design in online enterprise social systems?

  2. sure. my number’s the same as it was, we’re connected on Twitter and fb, and I’m staying at the InterConti. We will definitely meet.

Let me know what you think

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