Social networking site users are becoming more vigilant in managing their online privacy, according to a Pew Internet Project study released Friday. The survey of 2,277 American adults shows that a majority of social network users have already adopted restricted privacy settings and pruned their profiles by untagging photos, deleting comments and unfriending individuals.
"Some 67 percent of women who maintain a profile say they have deleted people from their network, compared with 58 percent of men," said the report's author, Mary Madden, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet Project.
Young adults are even more active unfrienders when compared with older users. Additionally, the profiles that 62 percent of teens said they use most often are set to be private so that only friends can see the content they post.
Going forward, Madden believes it will be interesting to see what happens with Facebook's transition to Timeline -- a new format that gives users a more complete picture of what they have shared over the years.
"That is prompting many people to delete content that either isn't relevant or perhaps isn't appropriate for the people who are currently in their network," Madden said in an e-mail Friday. "We will be back in the field with more questions about privacy in the coming months, so we'll have a fresh look at the issue later this year."
Phase of Life Factors
When it comes to managing their social network profile privacy, 48 percent of Pew's survey respondents reported they had experienced some level of difficulty in using the available privacy controls. However, only 2 percent said that their experience was "very difficult."
Social media users between the ages of 18 and 29 are considerably more likely than any other age group to feel fully confident in their privacy controls, with 57 percent saying that it is "not difficult at all" to manage them, Pew reports. By contrast, less than half of older respondents -- 48 percent aged 30-49, 41 percent aged 50-64 and 31 percent 65 years of age or older -- said the same thing.
Younger users have been using social media tools from the outset and have weathered all of the various changes to the way information is displayed and shared, Madden said. "So in that sense, it is not surprising to see that they feel more confident in their ability to manage the settings on their profile," she said.
However, there may also be "phase of life" factors at work.
"A college student may have very different concerns about visibility when compared with, say, a working mother or a retired professional," Madden said.
Privacy Controls Stump College Grads
Surprisingly, among those with the highest level of education, 62 percent reported some difficulty in managing their privacy controls. Still, only 2 percent of college graduates characterized their experience as "very difficult" -- with 21 percent saying it was "somewhat difficult" and 39 percent "not too difficult."
"Previous research from Pew Internet has shown that that those with the highest education levels are also more likely to have a job that specifically requires them to self-promote or market themselves online," Madden said. "These 'public personae' may be especially cautious about avoiding any privacy missteps on social media."
Nearly two-thirds, 63 percent, of the Pew survey's respondents said they have deleted people from their networks or friend lists -- up from 56 percent in 2009. Moreover, 44 percent have deleted comments made by others on their profile.
Among respondents overall, 37 percent have removed their names from tagged photos. With respect to young adults, however, the number rose to 49 percent.
"Whether because there are simply more photos being shared or there is more sensitivity to their content, young adult social media users are the most likely age group to report removal of photo tags," Madden said.