January 20, 2009

Use of Social Network Sites Increases Among Adults; Such Sites Prove Safe for Minors, Too

Two interesting studies on Internet use were released this past week.

In the first, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that the share of adult Internet users who have a profile on an online social network site has more than quadrupled in the past four years -- from 8% in 2005 to 35% in December 2008.

While the media and policy makers focus heavily on how children and young adults use social network sites, adults still make up the bulk of the users of these websites. Adults make up a larger portion of the US population than teens, which is why the 35% number represents a larger number of users than the 65% of online teens who also use online social networks.

Still, younger online adults are much more likely than their older counterparts to use social networks, with 75% of adults 18-24 using these networks, compared to just 7% of adults 65 and older. At its core, use of online social networks is still a phenomenon of the young.

View the entire report. [.pdf]

The second report, released by the Internet Safety Technical Task Force of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, says that the Internet -- specifically, social network sites -- might not be such a dangerous place for children after all.

The Task Force, created by 49 state attorneys general, was charged with examining the extent of the threats children face on social networks like MySpace and Facebook, amid popular perception that adults were using these sites to solicit children for sexual activity.

The Task Force found that children and teenagers were unlikely to be propositioned by adults online. In the cases that do exist, the report said, teenagers are already at risk because of poor home environments, substance abuse or other problems.

According to Task Force member John Cardillo – chief executive of Sentinel Tech Holding – quoted in The New York Times: “Social networks are not these horribly bad neighborhoods on the Internet. They are very much like real-world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons.” Sites such as MySpace and Facebook “do not appear to have increased the overall risk of solicitation.”

The report concluded that online solicitation of minors by adults is not a significant problem. According to the report, bullying among children, both online and offline, poses a far more serious challenge than such solicitation.

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