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21 April 2016

Imitation Game - Teens Copy Each Other's Privacy Settings on Facebook

Keywords: peers, personality, popularity, privacy, survey, teens, Western Europe, computer, internet, media, social media,

Peer group dynamics play an important role in privacy behavior of teens, a study in Computers in Human Behavior shows. In highly connected classes, teens are more likely to imitate their classmates’ privacy settings. Strikingly, popular teens more often opt for public Facebook profiles.  

Take aways

  • Peer influence plays an important role in timeline posts privacy settings of teens on Facebook
  • In connected peer groups, teens are more likely to imitate each others privacy settings
  • These teens more often have private Facebook profiles:
    • girls
    • members of ethnic minority groups
    • younger teens
    • lower educated teens
    • trustworthy teens
  • Popular teens are more likely to maintain public Facebook profiles
  • Due to social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook, highly personal content is more easily accessible to an expanding audience. Consequently, SNS are an easy target for hackers, who can for example commit identity theft. With this study we get more insight in privacy-related online behaviors of teens and we can come up with more context-related privacy interventions in classrooms.

Study information

  • The question?

    To what extent are peers’ privacy settings, popularity and trust related to adolescents’ privacy settings on Facebook?

  • Who?

    3434 16- to 20-year-old Facebook users (mean age: 18.63 years) from the Netherlands. 55% girls and 45% boys from different high school tracks: preparatory vocational education (VMBO), senior general (HAVO) and university preparatory education (VWO)

  • Where?

    The Netherlands

  • How?

    In five years (2010-2014), information about friends within classrooms was collected at 118 schools with a large-scale survey that was used in the ‘Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study in Four European Countries’ (CILS4EA). Also, Dutch Facebook Survey (DFS) data were collected to get insight in adolescents’ privacy behavior on Facebook.

Facts and findings

  • Peers played an important role in privacy behavior of teens on Facebook.
  • In highly connected classrooms, teens were more likely to imitate their peers’ timeline post settings.
  • However, there was no imitation between peers with regard to the privacy settings of their friend lists. A possible reason could be that, in contrast to timeline post privacy settings, Facebook friend lists settings were not visible for others, which made imitation impossible. 
  • Popularity is also related to privacy settings. More popular teens were more likely to maintain public Facebook profiles. 
  • In contrast, girls, members of ethnic minorities, younger and lower educated teens more frequently opted for private profiles. 
  • Remarkable fact: Trustworthy teens were more likely to keep their timeline posts private.