Introduction
Social networking sites like Facebook encourage disclosure and sharing of personal information. Although these Web sites have privacy settings that allow users to adjust their privacy preferences, these settings are not used very often. Adolescents are generally assumed to disclose more personal information than adults, and are at a greater risk of being exploited. This study tested this assumption and sought possible explanations for this difference. It considered three possible explanations. The first was the “developmental difference,” suggesting that adolescents have a lesser developed sense of privacy; the second possible explanation was “learning,” wherein people adjust and learn their social behavior based on their environment; and the third explanation combined both the developmental and the learning aspects.

Methods
* The study included 283 adolescents (112 boys and 171 girls, nine to 18 years of age) and 283 adults (118 men and 165 women, 19 to 71 years of age).
* The online survey required the participants to answer questions about the time they spent on Facebook each day and the number of friends they had on Facebook.
* The level of information shared on Facebook and the privacy settings used were rated based on a seven-point scale, ranging from “very unlikely” to “very likely”.
* The researchers also assessed other variables responsible for disclosure of personal information and adjustments of privacy settings, such as trust, self-esteem, the need for popularity and awareness of consequences of online sharing of information.

Results
* Adults and adolescents were equally likely to disclose personal information online. However, adolescents were more likely to reveal more information because they spent more time on Facebook than adults: an average of 55.9 minutes compared to 38.2 minutes for adults.
* Adolescents and adults who sought popularity and were less aware of the consequences and disclosed more personal information. There were no significant differences between the two groups.
* Adolescents were significantly more aware of consequences than adults.
* Adolescents with high self-esteem disclosed less than adults with high self- esteem.
* The number of Facebook friends of adults and adolescents were similar but adolescents tended to acquire more friends whom they did not know personally.
* In both the age groups, women used privacy settings more than men.

Next steps/Shortcomings
The minimum age criterion to become a Facebook user is 13 years. However, some of the participants enrolled in this study were aged between nine and 13 years. Many younger people report a false age to use Facebook. It is also known that adults have a far more complex social role, and predicting adult behavior online is very difficult.

Conclusion
Limiting the extent of sharing personal information and the use of privacy settings on social networking Web sites such as Facebook is important to minimize the dangers of being exploited. The results of this study reveal that the extent of disclosure and control of information were quite similar in adults and adolescents. Developmental and learning factors influence the decisions made by people regarding disclosure and use of privacy settings. Trust and self-esteem appear to influence sharing of personal information online. Self-esteem  increases with age, and those with a higher self-esteem are more likely to protect their personal information.

For More Information:

Hey Mom, What’s on Your Facebook? Comparing Facebook Disclosure and Privacy in Adolescents and Adults
Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2011
By Emily Christofides; Amy Muise; University of Guelph, Ontario




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