Report: Over Half of U.S. Teens Frequent Social Networking Sites

Over half of U.S. teens frequent social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, according to the first of a series of “data memos” Pew Internet & American Life Project plans to release on the trend.

Social networking sites are a part of daily life for 48 percent of teens. Participation is marginally stronger among older teens, especially girls aged 15 to 17, than it is among the younger set. Sites like MySpace and Facebook, and to a lesser degree Xanga, Yahoo, Piczo, Gaiaonline, and Tagged.com are used by teens to network and manage their social lives.

“People tell us that for the most part, their online interaction enhances or augments their offline lives,” said Pew Internet Senior Research Specialist Mary Madden. “Particularly when it comes to keeping up with their friends, teens felt that social networks helped them, and helped them be more efficient with communicating with their friends.”

Over half of online teens (55 percent) have created a personal profile. Many limit access to friends and acquaintances. “Of those who have visible profiles, more than half of them say they’re viewable by friends. We see that in teen behavior and attitudes in focus groups,” said Madden.

The ability to limit access to those within a social group makes Facebook more favorable to some teenagers.

“Teens are aware Facebook was developed as a closed system. They like the sense there’s more control of privacy and not as much advertising,” said Madden. “But you don’t have the critical mass that you have with MySpace, and the ability to link yourself to more weak ties whether it’s celebrities or friends of friends.”

A profile created by a teenager becomes an extension of her persona. There is pressure to update frequently to keep friends within the network engaged. It also creates a degree of tension to maintain a profile as a “continuously morphing showcase,” as Madden called it. The result creates a history, which has still not been fully realized.

“There’s so much more of that sort of digital imprint, or digital trail being left behind,” Madden said. “It’s definitely going to change the way we think about our own personal histories and the way our lives are lived online.”

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