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Summary:

Managing what is said about them online has become “a defining feature of online life for many internet users, especially the young,” according to a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Younger users also tend to be less trusting of content-hosting sites.

Managing what’s being said about them online has become “a defining feature of online life” for many Internet users, according to a new report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, “especially the young.” The center surveyed 2,253 users over the age of 18 about their attitudes and behavior online, and found that younger users in particular are more likely to both search for information about themselves and modify what they share with others, and also tend to be less trusting of social networks and other sharing sites.

Compared with older users, young adults are not only the most attentive to customizing their privacy settings and limiting what they share via their profiles, but they are also generally less trusting of the sites that host their content. When asked how much of the time they think they can trust social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, 28 percent of users ages 18-29 say “never.”

The Center noted that young adults “are the most active online reputation managers in several dimensions” and are the most likely to customize what they share and whom they share it with. Among other things, they:

  • Take steps to limit the amount of personal information available about them online (44 percent of young adults say they do this, compared with just 25 percent of those between 50 and 64).
  • Change privacy settings: a majority (71 percent) of social networking users between 18 and 29 have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online, compared with just 55 percent of older users.
  • Delete unwanted comments: Almost half of those users between 18 and 29 have deleted comments others have made on their profile, compared with just 26 percent of older users.
  • Remove their names from photos: Over 40 percent of those users between 18 and 29 say they have removed their name from photos that were tagged by others, compared with just 18 percent of older users.

The report also notes that managing your reputation online is increasingly important because it’s where employers are searching for information about potential hires (a claim that’s backed up by other research). In fact, 27 percent of employed Internet users were found to work for an employer that has policies about how they present themselves online, including what they can post on blogs and websites or what information they can share about themselves, while 31 percent of employed Internet users said they’ve searched online for information about co-workers, professional colleagues or business competitors.

The Center said its research showed several major trends, including:

  • Reputation monitoring via search engines has increased, with more than half of Internet users searching for information about themselves online.
  • More people are creating profiles on social networking sites, with over 46 percent of adults saying they have done this, up from just 20 percent in 2006.
  • Many also search for information about their friends: Almost half of those surveyed said they searched online to find information about people from their past or existing friends.

There’s a full version of the report available here (PDF link).

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Why New Net Companies Must Shoulder More Responsibility

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Stefan

By Mathew Ingram

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  1. [...] Remove their names from photos: Over 40 percent of those users between 18 and 29 say they have removed their name from photos that were tagged by others, compared with just 18 percent of older users. via gigaom.com [...]

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  2. What sucks today, is the fact that there are stupid sites like http://www.lifeblob.com and http://www.ubervu.com who actually take your content and display them just to register in searches for specific people.

    Ubervu for example, actually makes you register, to view your own freaking pic!

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  3. Online reputation management will be a vital skill for both individuals and companies. Even corporations like Nestlé and BP fail at this: Check the fake BP Twitter account for instance, this is what happens when social media monitoring is not part of your arsenal.

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  4. Frederick Kierulff Friday, May 28, 2010

    This is the new method of networking. As a university student, my online profile is the first impression an employer gets of me. I can be absolutely sure that my name is being googled when I sign up for a job interview. If the profile is filled with pictures of me binge drinking or singing at the local republican parties annual general assembly the employed will get a twisted impression of my person (and yes – I rarely drink and I would absolutely not attend a republican get together).
    I’m very interested in heighten the positive outcome of my online profile (I think everybody is) but I have chosen, that my profile is for business networking and personal PR, not for my friends and family. I would rather see them physically, than on a computer screen.

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  5. Great post. There are some excellent data in the Pew Internet Study on Reputation Management and Social Media and it shows that people are more aware than ever that they have an online reputation, and that they are more concerned about their privacy. Consumers do not accept the canard that privacy is dead.

    The bottom line is that there are new websites and technologies being launched everyday that make it easier to collect, aggregate and search personal information, which makes it harder to control what can be found about you on the internet, but you can take immediate action (see a list of how-to’s at http://www.reputationdefender.com/how-to/). There are very few companies who are taking up the banner of control and privacy for the individual – and we are tangling with the behemoths of the internet.

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  9. There are lots of reputation companies about. Only one sticks out with results and people behind them. I have used them twice and the results are just fine. Clydestan, http://www.clydestan.com No problems, would recommend anytime

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