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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).
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