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Are you an Alpha Socialiser or an Attention Seeker?

Apr 3, 2008
A report published 2nd April 2008 by UK telecoms regulator Ofcom reveals that 49% of children aged 8-17 who have access to the internet have their own personal profile on a social networking site. Although the minimum age for major social networking sites is usually 13 or 14, 27% of 8-11 year olds who are aware of social networking sites claim to have a profile on a site.

The research shows some amazing discrepancies between what parents think is taking place and what is really happening. Two-thirds of parents say that they set rules for their children's use of social networking sites, but only 53% of children agreed that their parents did so. 50% parents have installed some form of content blocking, and 80% of them think it works, but 67% of children believe that they can overcome it and access any content they want to. 24% of teenagers have a computer in their bedroom, so their parents can't see what they're doing in any case.

22% of adult internet users 16 and over admit to having an own online profile and many have a profile on more than one site. Half of adult social network users claim to access their profile every second day. Facebook is the most popular site for adults, followed by MySpace and Bebo. Adults in lower socio-economic groupings are more likely to use MySpace, but Bebo is the site used most by children from 8 to 17 years of age.

Social networking sites are expanding the traditional meaning of 'friends' to mean anyone a user has an online connection with, including people that they have never met or spoken to offline. Online friendships are displayed publicly via friend lists, meaning that users ar sharing personal details like religion, political views, sexuality and date of birth online with people they hardly know.

Ofcom's research involved 5,000 adults and 3,000 children. It suggests that there are five discrete groups of people who use social networking sites:

* Alpha Socialisers - generally males aged under 25, who use sites in intense short bursts to flirt, find new friends and seek entertainment.

* Attention Seekers - generally females looking for attention and comments from others, often by posting photographs and customizing their profiles. Some younger women claimed to create fake profiles for fun.

* Followers - include both males and females of all ages who join sites to keep track of what their peer group is doing.

* Faithfuls - usually older males and females, aged over 20, who use social networking sites to make contact with old friends, often from school or university.

* Functionals - these are mostly older males who use sites for a specific purpose.

The research also suggests that there are three discrete groups of people who do not use social networking sites:

* Concerned about safety - often older people and parents concerned about safety online, in particular making personal details available online.

* Technically inexperienced - often people over 30 years old who lack confidence in using the internet and computers.

* Intellectual rejecters - often older teens and young adults who have no interest in social networking sites and see them as a waste of time.

Although privacy and safety are cited as major reasons for avoiding social networking sites, they do not appear to be a major worry for those who do use social networking sites. The research found that:

* 41% of children and 44% of adults are content to leave their privacy settings at the default setting of 'open', making their profiles are visible to anyone

* 34% of 16-24 year olds are happy to give out sensitive personal information such as their email address or phone number

* 17% of adult users admitted that they talked to people they didn't know on social networking sites that and 35% chatted to people who were 'friends of friends'.

Some teenagers and young adults in their early twenties felt 'addicted' to social networking sites and realize that their use was reducing the time available for studying. Some users reported being aware of bullying through social networking sites and a minority of younger users admitted using social networking sites to take revenge on people they had had disagreements with.
About the Author
Ted Hastings has many years of experience of IT and education. He has written a textbook on Internet Safety Skills and writes a regular blog entitled Surf Safely.
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