February 7, 2023

Pew Study Shows Teens’ Social Media Use Rising, Race Affects Habits


Teenagers are revealing more about themselves on social media than ever before, but they’re also taking more steps to protect their privacy online, according to  “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy,” a May 21 report issued by Pew Internet, part of the Pew Research Center, and Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The report also found Twitter use among teens—especially African Americans—is rising, while teens’ fondness for Facebook is on the decline.

Teen on mobile device

Since the last such study by Pew in 2006, teens are making several aspects of their lives more public online, sharing both personal and contact information more liberally, the report shows. Currently, 91 percent of teens post their photos online, up from 79 percent three years ago. About 71 percent reveal their school name, a 22 percent jump since up from 2006, while 71 percent post their hometown or city name, an increase of 10 percent. About 53 percent share their email address, up from 29 percent, and 20 percent of teens now post their cell phone number, while a mere 2 percent did so in 2006.

Yet while they’re sharing more personal details than before, most teens feel they can adequately protect their online information, according to the report. Among teen Facebook users, the majority say they feel confident about controlling their privacy settings. Sixty percent of teens on Facebook designate their profiles as “private,” accessible by friends only. Less than one percent found managing their Facebook privacy settings “very difficult,” while 56 percent said that maintaining privacy is “not difficult at all.”

In addition, as Danah Boyd, a social media analyst, notes in a post on zephoria.org, the Pew report revealed how race factors into teens’ use social media. About 95 percent of white teens use their real names on at least one service, compared to 77 percent of African-American teens. Related to this, 21 percent of white teens say they post fake information, compared to 39 percent of African-Americans. On Facebook, 48 percent of African-Americans friended celebrities, musicians, or athletes, compared to 25 percent of white users.

As Boyd points out in her post, “Teens are more likely to interact with people of the same race and their norms, practices, and values are shaped by the people around them. So what we’re actually seeing is a manifestation of network effects.” She adds, “the differences in the Pew report point to black youth’s increased interest in being a part of public life, their heightened distrust of those who hold power over them, and their notable appreciation for pop culture.”

Other highlights of the report:

  • 24 percent of online teens use Twitter, up from 16 percent two years ago.
  • The typical teen Facebook user has 300 friends, and the typical Twitter user 79 followers.
  • Teens don’t like Facebook as much as they used to. Specifically, they dislike the increasing adult presence; people sharing excessively; and “stressful ‘drama,’” the report says. However, they stay on Facebook because they think it’s important for socializing.
  • 74 percent of teens have deleted people from their network or friends list.
  • Teens aren’t too concerned about third parties accessing their data. Only nine percent describe themselves as “very” concerned.

The report also analyzed social media use by age, gender, and ethnicity. Boys and girls post the same kind of content—school name, relationship status, and phone number—but older teens share more of it, the report found. Thirty-nine percent of African American teens use Twitter, as opposed to 23 percent among white teens. And younger teens online are less likely to “friend” people they haven’t met than older teens. In addition, girls limit access to their Facebook profiles more than boys do.

Fifty-eight percent of teens “share inside jokes or cloak their messages in some way” while using social media, the report found. Many teens lied about their age to access websites and online accounts, and one in six said they were contacted by “someone they did not know in a way that made them feel scared or uncomfortable.” And though teens may not have “a good sense” of how third-parties might use their data, the report concluded, 81 percent of parents expressed “high levels of concern” about what advertisers might learn about their children online.

The findings combine the results of several surveys: a national phone survey of 802 teens, ages 12–17, and their parents, conducted on cell phones and landlines in Spanish and English between July 26and September 30, 2012; 24 focus groups, starting in February 2013, comprised of 156 students; and two online focus groups that took place between June 20 and June 27, 2012. Participants were from varied ethnic, racial, regional, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Sarah Bayliss About Sarah Bayliss

Sarah Bayliss (sbayliss@mediasourceinc.com) is associate editor, news and features, at School Library Journal.