Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

What teens said about social media, privacy, and online identity

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project conducted focus groups with teenagers in a variety of locales. What follows is a list of some of the most revealing and interesting comments about how teens think about social networking sites and how they navigate issues of identity and privacy.

Facebook is a major center of teenage social interactions, both with the positives of friendship and social support and the negatives of drama and social expectations.

Female, age 14 — “I think Facebook can be fun, but also it’s drama central. On Facebook, people imply things and say things, even just by a like, that they wouldn’t say in real life.”

Female (age 14): “OK, so I do post a good amount of pictures, I think. Sometimes it’s a very stressful thing when it comes to your profile picture. Because one should be better than the last, but it’s so hard. So… I will message them a ton of pictures. And be like which one should I make my profile? And then they’ll help me out. And that kind of takes the pressure off me. And it’s like a very big thing.”

Friending mom and dad: It’s complicated

[I’ve gotten in trouble for something I posted]

[my parents]

Friending teachers and preachers

[become Facebook friends with my teachers]


Party tweets might get you busted

[School Resource Officer]

College admissions officers can find out things

Male (age 18): “So honestly, the only time I’ve ever deleted for a picture is because I’m applying for colleges. You know what? Colleges might actually see my pictures and I have pictures like with my fingers up, my middle fingers up. Like me and my friends have pictures, innocent fun. We’re not doing anything bad, but innocent fun. But at the same time, maybe I’m applying for college now. Possibly an admission officer’s like, you know, this kid’s accepted. Let’s see what his everyday life is like. They’re like, um–”

Snapchat is catching on with teens because it enables speedy exchanges, many schools haven’t yet blocked it, and, most of all, because photos vanish after a limited amount of time


Female (age 16): “Well, because Facebook, everyone sees what I’m doing. But Snapchat is just to one person, unless they’re a jerk and they screenshot it and post it on Facebook. But mostly it’s just the person that you’re sending it to, so it’s like a conversation.”

Female (age 17): “And it’s just kind of fun. Because it’s like texting, but you get to use your face as the emoticon instead of an actual emoticon.”

Different social media services are used for different social purposes

Female (age 16):  I am basically dividing things up. Instagram is mostly for pictures. Twitter is mostly for just saying what you are thinking. Facebook is both of them combined so you have to give a little bit of each. But yes, so Instagram, I posted more pictures on Instagram than on Facebook. Twitter is more natural.”

Female (age 15): “I mean Instagram is just basically like letting everybody else see what you’re seeing.”

[Twitter and Facebook]

Looking good – physically and reputationally – is a big deal

Male (age 18): “Yeah, I have some teachers who have connections that you might want to use in the future, so I feel like you always have an image to uphold. Whether I’m a person that likes to have fun and go crazy and go all out, but I don’t let people see that side of me because maybe it changes the judgment on me. So you post what you want people to think of you, basically.”

Managing pictures on Facebook’s timeline takes some work

[I’ve taken down photos from my timeline]

Facebook is important as a kind of social broadcasting space

Female (age 15): “And so after school the day before, someone said ‘oh, the assembly’s sure going to be fun.’ And I’m like, ‘what assembly?’ And they’re like, ‘the assembly that we’re performing in.’ ‘What assembly that we’re performing in?’ No one had remembered to tell me, because they had only posted it on Facebook. So after that I just got a Facebook to know what’s going on.”

Facebook is a challenging space because so many others are there and watching and judging


Location sharing doesn’t feel necessary

[I don’t share my location]

Leaving the drama can be liberating

[my Facebook account]

About the focus groups

In collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, this report also includes quotes gathered through a series of exploratory in-person focus group interviews about privacy and digital media, with a focus on social media sites, conducted by the Berkman Center’s Youth and Media Project beginning in February 2013. The team conducted 24 focus group interviews with 156 students across the greater Boston area, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Greensboro (North Carolina). Each focus group interview lasted 90 minutes, including a 15-minute questionnaire completed prior to starting the interview, consisting of 20 multiple-choice questions and 1 open-ended response. Although the research sample was not designed to constitute representative cross-sections of particular population(s), the sample includes participants from diverse ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds. Participants ranged in age from 11 to 19. The mean age of participants is 14.5.

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