Tech Trends

Teens Less Concerned Than Adults About Fake Accounts and Bots on Social Sites

A joint Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey survey found that "privacy matters" for parents and teens on social media. Most parents believe that social networking sites and apps do a crummy job of explaining how they'll use the data they collect, and both parents and teens think those sites should ask for permission before they share or sell personal information they've compiled. Common Sense is a non-profit that helps sort out education, viewing and app options for young people in a digital world. SurveyMonkey is an online survey company.

According to "Privacy Matters: Parents and Teens Share Attitudes and Opinions," 55 percent of parent respondents and 34 percent of teen respondents disagreed with the statement, "In general, social networking sites and apps do a good job explaining what they will do with my data." However, equally high numbers among both sets of survey participants -- 93 percent of parents and 84 percent of teens -- percent consider it important for social networking sites to ask permission before they share or sell personal information. Most people also reported changing their privacy settings on social sites to limit what's shared with others; among parents, 86 percent said they had done so; among teens, 79 percent said the same.

Terms of service on social sites don't hold much interest for respondents. Just 36 percent of parents said they read them every time or almost all the time, while among teens, just 17 percent do so. The primary reason why so few people bother: They're not interested in what the terms of service have to say, referenced by two-thirds of people in both groups.

Adults are much more concerned about the use of fake accounts and "bots" to sell things or influence opinions on social sites; the majority of parent respondents reported being extremely, very or moderately concerned (40 percent, 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively). Among teens, 38 percent said they were extremely or very concerned, while 34 percent said they were moderately worried. Twice as many teens than adults said they weren't concerned at all (13 percent vs. 6 percent).

While equal numbers of parents and teens have heard about the personal data controversy involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica (38 percent "a lot" and 36 percent "a little"), the adults were far more likely to be more cautious about all social media (63 percent vs. 38 percent for teens), while teens were more than twice as likely to be more cautious about Facebook specifically, rather than other social media (26 percent vs. 12 percent).

Yet Facebook is still a favorite among adults, used by 78 percent of survey participants in the last year, whereas just 37 percent of teens said they used Facebook over the same period. Among teens, Instagram and Snapchat were most popular, used by 74 and 73 percent, in that order, during the previous 12 months, compared to 41 percent and 27 percent of adults.

"These findings confirm that privacy still matters to parents and teens who are using social media sites," said James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense, in a prepared statement. "We are encouraged to see so many of the respondents taking action to proactively protect their privacy online. But there is a lot more work to do, and we hope these findings will help push the tech industry and policymakers toward meaningful privacy regulations."

The survey was done in May 2018 among a national sample of 19,063 adults, including 3,222 parents with teenage children, and 985 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17. The data was weighted for age, race, gender, education and geography to reflect the demographic composition of the United States of people age 18 and over. The modeled error estimate for this survey was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points among parents of teens and 3.5 percentage points among teens.

The complete survey results are openly available on the Common Sense website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.