Among users of social networking sites, young adults are the most proactive in customizing their privacy settings and restricting who can see certain updates.
Younger internet users are often associated with the idea that they prefer to share information rather than protect their privacy online. However, our data suggest that younger users are far more active and deliberate curators of their online profiles when compared with older users--perhaps out of necessity. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of social networking users ages 18-29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online. By comparison, 62% of SNS users ages 30-49 and just 55% of SNS users ages 50-64 have changed the default settings. Overall, 65% of adult SNS users say they have customized the privacy settings on their profile to restrict what they share.
Likewise, half of all SNS users (52%) say they have restricted what they share by keeping some people from seeing certain updates. This could include creating custom friend lists or blocking individual users from seeing certain updates or content. For this question, there was less variation among those under age 50. While 58% of SNS users ages 18-29 keep some people from seeing certain updates, 52% of those ages 30-49 do this, compared with 37% of SNS users ages 50-64.
Yet, young adults are by far the most likely to say that they have posted content to social networking sites that they later regret sharing.
Looking at the adult social networking population as a whole, relatively few users (12%) say they have posted updates, comments, photos or videos to the sites that they later regret sharing. However, among SNS users ages 18-29, that number jumps to 19%, while just 9% of those ages 30-49 and only 5% of those ages 50-64 say they have had this experience.
When asked if they ever tried to remove any of the information that they regretted sharing, about eight in ten of these remorseful users said they had attempted to take that content down.
Young adults are also the most likely to delete unwanted comments and tags associated with their profiles.
Managing an online identity requires more than just making good decisions about the material you share and who you share it with. It also requires monitoring and refining the content that others post about you. Among social networking users, more than a third (36%) say they have deleted comments that others have made on their profiles. Again, young adults are far more engaged in this regard. Half (47%) of young adult SNS users have deleted comments that others have made on their profile, compared with just 29% of SNS users ages 30-49 and 26% of those ages 50-64.
Similarly, 41% of SNS users ages 18-29 say they have removed their name from photos that were tagged to identify them, compared with just 24% of SNS users ages 30-49 and only 18% of those ages 50-64. Overall, 30% of adult SNS users say they have removed tags that identified them in photos.
More than half of social networking users (56%) have “unfriended” others in their network.
In 2009, the term “unfriend” was chosen as the Oxford Word of the Year and defined as the action of removing someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook. While “friending” someone on a social networking site assumes a certain level of persistence in that connection, relationships in the offline world are dynamic and may go through periods of dormancy or end altogether. Indeed, 56% of social networking users say they have deleted people from their network or friends list.
Once again, young adults are the most experienced in this form of management of their social network: 64% of SNS users ages 18-29 have deleted people from their network or friends list, compared with 52% of those ages 30-49 and just 41% of users ages 50-64.
Just because we’re friends doesn’t mean I’m listening: 41% of social networking users say they filter updates posted by some of their friends.
While some friends get deleted from others’ networks, others are simply tuned out. Features such as the “Hide” function on Facebook facilitate this kind of filtering, essentially omitting certain friends’ updates from a user’s News Feed. Overall, 41% of social networking users say they have filtered updates posted by some of their friends.
SNS users ages 18-29 are equally as likely as those ages 30-49 to say that they filter updates from their friends (44% vs. 43%). However, SNS users ages 50-64 are significantly less likely to utilize this feature (30% say they filter).
Young adult users of social networking sites report the lowest levels of trust in them.
Young adult users of social networking applications are not only the most proactive in customizing their privacy settings and limiting what they share via their profiles, but they are also generally less trusting than older users of the sites that host their content. When asked how much of the time they think they can trust social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, 28% of SNS users ages 18-29 say “never.” By comparison, a smaller segment of older users express such cautious views; 19% of SNS users ages 30-49 and 14% of those ages 50-64 say they never trust the sites.
While younger generations have historically been associated with lower levels of trust overall, those ages 18-29 were not any more likely than older adults to express low levels of trust in this survey. The responses to this question are also significant when seen within the context of the social networking site user population as a whole. Among SNS users, when asked a general question about trust in people (“Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?”)—there are not significant variations in levels of trust by age. For instance, 57% of SNS users ages 18-29 say “you can’t be too careful” in dealing with people, compared with 58% of SNS users ages 30-49. Among social networking users ages 50 and older, 50% express this cautious view (a difference that is not significant when compared with younger users).
Likewise, young adult SNS users are no less trusting of an array of other organizations, and are actually more trusting of news websites when compared with older SNS users. While 42% of SNS users ages 18-29 say you can “just about always” or “most of the time” trust news websites, only 32% of SNS users ages 50 and older express the same level of confidence. When asked about their levels of trust in other kinds of organizations—including large corporations, newspapers and television news, financial companies and websites that provide health information—young adult SNS users express views that are not significantly different than their elder SNS-using counterparts.