Brits Use Social Media More, But Share Less
Paralleling the United States, the number of adults in the United Kingdom who use social networks has expanded rapidly in the last few years -- but they are also demonstrating more caution in what they choose to share online, according to the new UK Adult Media Literacy report from Ofcom, which conducted 1,824 in-home interviews with U.K. adults. Does this echo or foreshadow similar changes in the U.S.?
There's no question that social networks are very popular in the U.K. -- particularly Facebook. The total proportion of U.K. adults on the Internet who have a social network profile doubled from 22% in 2007 to 44% in 2009, and 35% check into a social network site at least once a week; unsurprisingly, the proportion varied by age, with 69% of the 16-24 set, 54% for 25-34, 28% for 35-44, 17% for 45-54, 12% for 55-64, and 4% of 65+ checking in once a week. Ofcom found that women were more likely than men to have a social network profile (48% to 40%).
Among Internet adults with social network profiles, 41% said they check in every day, up from 30% in 2007. Meanwhile the proportion of the social network subset with a profile on Facebook increased from 62% in 2007 to 90% in 2009, making it far and away the dominant social network (by comparison, MySpace penetration among the same group decreased from 46% in 2007 to 18% in 2009).
Now, the survey has some obvious shortcomings: just 1% of U.K. adults who use the Internet said they look at "adult-only Web sites," and in statistical parlance this is a "big fat lie" (a survey by Norton in February 2008 found 58% of men and 18% of women look at online pornography). But presumably answers were more likely to be honest in areas where the shame factor was lower. And the stats on privacy -- if trustworthy -- suggest a definite trend towards less sharing.
The proportion of social network users who say their online profiles can be seen only by their friends increased from 48% in 2007 to 80% in 2009, and the number who use social network sites to talk to people they don't know decreased from 17% to 10% over the same period. By contrast, the percentage who said they use social networks to stay in touch with friends and family they see regularly increased from 69% to 78%. Higher proportions of young adults said they use social networks to talk to friends of friends (41% for 16-24-year-olds, versus 32% overall). Males were more likely than females to talk to friends of friends (37% to 28%) and to talk to people they don't know (13% vs. 7%). Interestingly, the number of people who said they "look at other people's pages without leaving a message" decreased from 40% of all social network users in 2007 to 35% in 2009.