Study: Most Underage Teenagers Use MySpace Responsibly

Published: January 11, 2007

MIAMI – A new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Florida Atlantic University reveals that most teenagers behave responsibly and safely when using MySpace.

The study was conducted by Justin Patchin, an assistant professor of criminal justice at UW-Eau Claire, and Sameer Hinduja, a professor of criminology at FAU. The two professors randomly surveyed 1,475 MySpace profiles and searched them for personal information that could make them vulnerable to online predators.

Myspace.com is a social networking site that attracts nearly 150 million users, a quarter of whom are under 18.

According to the study, approximately 91 percent of the teens’ profiles surveyed did not list full names, and 40 percent kept their profiles private, which prohibits anyone not on the profile’s owner’s friends list from viewing the profile.

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The study also reveals, however, that 5 percent posted pictures of themselves in bathing suits or underwear, and that 15 percent posted pictures of their friends in bathing suits or underwear.

The researchers achieved a representative sample by employing a number generator to produce random numbers that corresponded to the identification numbers assigned by MySpace to all profiles. The margin of error is plus or minus 0.5 to 2.5 percentage points.

MySpace already has several safety features intended to protect children. One feature disallows anyone 13 or under from registering with the Web site and creating a profile. Users under the age of 16 have their profiles automatically set to private. Users 18 or older cannot request to be placed on the friends’ list of any user under the age of 16 unless they know the latter’s full name or E-mail address.

Of course, some underage users misrepresent their age in the registration process and create profiles anyway.

The researchers say they were inspired to conduct the study after concerned parents expressed disapproval of social networking Web sites. MySpace has lately received a good deal of negative publicity from the media regarding whether it is a safe environment for young users.

According to Patchin, MySpace is not as dangerous as the media portrays it, and in fact offers a wide variety of benefits to young users, such as learning how to code HTML and write blogs, as well as discover new friends and a sense of identity.

MySpace released a statement indicating it is pleased that an independent study showed its users to be generally responsible in their online activities.

For additional information on social networking sites, read Virtual Fun with Real-World Consequences.

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