Teens and Social Networks: Managing Personal Information

April 23, 2007

This article is included in these additional categories:

Youth & Gen X

Most teenagers with social network profiles online take steps to protect themselves from the most obvious risks and manage their profiles to keep the most sensitive information from strangers, parents and other adults, according to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project report.

Still, 63% of teens with online profiles say that a motivated person could eventually identify them from their online profile. The Pew report is based on a survey and a series of focus groups, conducted to examine how teens make decisions about disclosing or shielding personal information.

While many teens post their first name and photos on their profiles, they rarely post information on public profiles they believe would help strangers actually locate them such as their full name, home phone number or cell phone number.

Some 55% of online teens have profiles and most of them restrict access to their profile in some way. Of those with profiles, 66% say their profile is not visible to all internet users. Of those whose profile can be accessed by anyone online, nearly half (46%) say they give at least some false information – both to protect themselves and to be playful or silly.

Teens post the following types of information on their profiles, whether public or shielded:

  • 82% of profile creators have included their first name in their profiles.
  • 79% have included photos of themselves.
  • 66% have included photos of their friends.
  • 61% have included the name of their city or town.
  • 49% have included the name of their school.
  • 40% have included their instant message screen name.
  • 40% have streamed audio to their profile.
  • 39% have linked to their blog. 29% have included their email address.
  • 29% have included their last name. 29% have included videos.
  • 2% have included their cell phone numbers.
  • 6% of online teens
  • 11% of profile-owning teens post their first and last names on publicly accessible profiles.


The majority of teen profile creators suspect that a motivated person could eventually identify them. Some 23% say it would be “pretty easy” for someone to find out who they are from the information posted to their profile, and 40% of teens with profiles online think that it would be hard for someone to find out who they are from their profile, but that they could eventually be found online. Another 36% say they think it would be “very difficult” for someone to identify them from their online profile.


The survey also suggests that today’s teens face potential risks associated with online life. Some 32% of online teenagers (and 43% of social-networking teens) have been contacted online by complete strangers, and 17% of online teens (31% of social networking teens) have “friends” on their social network profile whom they have not personally met.

  • 32% of online teens have been contacted by strangers online – not necessarily via social-network sites
  • 21% of teens who have been contacted by strangers have engaged an online stranger to find out more information about that person (that translates to 7% of all online teens)
  • 23% of teens who have been contacted by a stranger online say they felt scared or uncomfortable because of the online encounter (that translates to 7% of all online teens).

The report also addresses how teens make new friends and interact with strangers online.

The report, “Teens, Privacy, and Online Social Networks” (pdf), is based on a survey conducted by telephone from October 23 through November 19, 2006 among a national sample of 935 youths age 12 to 17 and on a series of seven focus groups conducted with middle and high-school aged teens in June 2006. The survey has a margin of error in the overall sample of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The Pew Internet Project is a nonprofit, non-partisan initiative of the Pew Research Center and produces reports exploring the impact of the internet on children, families, communities, the workplace, schools, healthcare, and civic/political life.


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