Social Networking in the UK
Ofcom has revealed the findings of its research into the effect of social networks on British lives. Tim Hoang reports.
The report focuses on the social and communications aspects of social networking sites and did not include either online networks dedicated to business networking, or user-generated content sites. As part of Ofcom’s Media Literacy Strategy, the aim of the research was to help define future priorities for the regulatory body and to understand who uses social networking sites and their attitudes toward them.
The report found that social networking usage is strongly related to age. Nearly half (49 per cent) of those between the age of 8 and 17 who have access to the Internet have their own personal profile on a social networking site. For adult Internet users, the figure decreases to around one-fifth.
It is common for adult social networkers to have multiple profiles across different social networking sites with users having 1.6 profiles on average. Half of the adult users of social networking sites visited their profile at least every other day.
A minority of people reported being aware of bullying through social networking sites and some younger users admitted using social networking sites to ‘get back’ at people they had fallen out with.
The qualitative research suggests that there are five distinct users of social networks:
- Alpha Socialisers - mostly male and under the age of 25. They use the sites in short bursts to flirt and meet new people
- Attention Seekers - mostly female of all ages, who crave attention and comments from others, often by posting photos
- Followers - males and females of all ages who join sites to keep in touch with friends and family
- Faithfuls - older males and females generally aged over 20, who typically use social networking sites to get into contact with old friends
- Functionals - mostly older males who prefer to use social networking sites in order to pursue specific interests
For those who do not use social networking sites, safety, unfamiliarity with the technology and general lack of interest were highlighted as issues. The report identified these three groups and their characteristics:
- Concerned about safety - often older people and parents concerned about the safety of their children online
- Technically inexperienced - often people over 30 years old who lack confidence in using the Internet and technology in general
- Intellectual rejecters - often older teens and young adults who have no interest in social networking sites and perceive it to be beneath them
Although many of those who do not use social networks cite security as a primary concern, the research found that social networking site users do not. Around four-in-ten users allow anyone to view their profile. Sensitive information such as phone numbers and email addresses are given out by 34 per cent of 16-24 year olds according to Get Safe Online Research. It was also found that 17 per cent of adults spoke to people on social networking sites that they did not know.
While some of the social networking sites are intended for those aged 13 and over, there was a significant presence of underage users on the sites. The research found that 27 per cent of 8-11 year olds who are aware of social networking sites and have Internet access have an online profile.
It would also appear that some parents lack control over their children’s social networking usage. 65 per cent of parents claim to set rules on their child’s use of social networking sites. However it was found that only 53 per cent of children said that their parents set such rules.
The full report can be found at: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/advice/media_literacy/m edlitpub/medlitpubrss/socialnetworking