Commentary

Lots of Kids Use Social Media But Most Don't Know Risks, EU Finds

It seems like there's always some new study to get parents hyperventilating about the threats posed by online social media, and I've got another one! Admittedly, it's based on European findings but I imagine there's a fair amount of similarity between U.S. and EU online behaviors.

The survey of 25,000 children and teens by the European Commission, published on the EUKidsOnline network, found that 38% of 9-12 year olds in the EU have a profile on a social networking site, rising to 77% among 13-16 year olds. These results are broadly in line with the findings of an Ipsos Public Affairs study, released in January, showing that 75% of American teens have a Facebook page, including 50% of 12 year olds.

The EU kids are prolific socializers, with 15% of 9-12 year olds in the EU saying they have more than 100 contacts on their social profiles. Slightly more bothersome is the fact that fully a quarter of the kids surveyed by the EC have set their profile to "public" so all and sundry can view their personal information -- which sometimes includes their physical address or phone number (many of these kids are on sites other than Facebook, which may be less diligent in policing privacy and security). A mere 56% of 11-12 year olds said they even knew how to change the privacy settings for their social network profile; that rose to 78% among 15-16 year olds. On that note, the younger cohort was more likely to report having a "public" profile than the older cohort in 15 out of 25 EU countries.

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Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda stated: "Growing numbers of children are on social networking sites but many are not taking all necessary steps to protect themselves online. These children are placing themselves in harm's way, vulnerable to stalkers and groomers. All social networking companies should therefore immediately make minors' profiles accessible by default only to their approved list of contacts and out of search engines' reach."

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