Fifty-one percent of teenage survey respondents said they had been contacted by a stranger and 10 percent had met with a stranger they first became acquainted with on online social networking sites such as the popular MySpace.com, according to research conducted by a California State University, Fresno faculty member.
Dr. Tamyra Pierce, assistant professor of mass communication and journalism, has just completed a study on teens’ use of social networking sites such as MySpace and the results revealed some interesting findings about what teens are doing online.
MySpace and Xanga.com are the most popular social networking sites used by teens as a meeting place. Like diaries available to the public online, the sites allow users to tell about themselves and their activities, post pictures, play songs and chat with “friends” around the world.
Pierce said she initiated the research because of increasing concern about potential child predators who surf the online sites looking for victims. Her previous research has focused on the effects of media on children, such as the media’s influence on potential copycat school shootings and video game violence.
Pierce surveyed 301 students 14-19 years old at three high schools in Fresno and Clovis during April 2006. She found that 80 percent of the respondents participate in one or more social networking sites.
On the safety issue, she found:
• 51 percent of those surveyed said they had been contacted by a stranger from “sometimes” to “frequently.”
• 10 percent said they had met with a stranger they first met on a social network site.
• 5 percent said they have considered meeting with a stranger they first met on a social network site.
• The 14-year-old respondents reported more often than older students that they were asked to meet in person with a stranger.
• 38 percent said they include personal information on their site.
Two-thirds of the students said their parents know they have a social networking site, but only 26 percent said their parents had seen their site. Sixteen percent said their parents had told them not to have a site.
In addition, 16 percent said they use a fake name on their site, which makes it difficult for parents or others to track what they are posting.
Pierce said the research can help parents and others protect their children.
“It might be fun to talk to other teens but it’s important for kids to realize that the person on the other end of that Internet connection may NOT be a teen,” she said. ‘We can’t hover over our kids and watch their every move, but we can certainly teach them to be safe when it comes to talking to others online.”
Other questions on the survey asked about posting “hurtful information” about another student (29 percent said they did such posting); including risque content (30 percent); and including unlawful content (18 percent).
Pierce, who joined the Fresno State faculty in 2003, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Southwest Missouri State and her Ph.D. at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She is currently starting another study on the actual content posted on MySpace and other social networking sites.
(EDITORS: Dr. Pierce is available for interviews. Contact Shirley for arrangements.)