A few weeks ago I wrote about interesting results from a survey of British Internet users by Ofcom, which showed that UK adults were pulling back the amount of information they posted about themselves in online social networks, and scaling back the number of people who they allowed to see it. I wondered if this foreshadowed similar shifts on this side of the pond. Now I have my answer: yes.
The new data comes courtesy of those redoubtable pollsters at the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, specifically the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which just released the results of a survey of U.S. adults titled "Reputation Management and Social Media."
One of the most significant findings -- which probably contradicts conventional wisdom -- shows that young adults (ages 18-29) are actually more likely to be concerned about the amount of personal information available online than old adults. Pew found that 44% of Internet users in this age cohort said they have taken steps to limit personal information about themselves available online -- versus 33% of users 30-49 and 25% of users ages 50-64. Among social network members, 71% of users ages 18-29 said they changed their privacy settings to limit what other people can view, versus 55% of users ages 50-64.
Of course, there's an obvious behavioral and statistical issue: it's easy to imagine that younger adults were more likely to post "excessive" personal information about themselves in the first place, meaning the older age cohorts don't need to take steps to reverse earlier over-sharing. Nonetheless, it's an interesting finding because it suggests a growing sense of awareness -- and caution -- among young adults about online vehicles for self-expression, including social networks.
This is also reflected in a higher level of skepticism about social networks: 28% of the 18-29 cohort said they "never" trust social networks including Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn, compared to 18% of adults 50-64.
For comparison, the U.K. Adult Media Literacy report from Ofcom (based on 1,824 in-home interviews with U.K. adults) found that the proportion of U.K. 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.