Battening down the Facebook privacy hatches

The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a new study yesterday that suggests Facebook users are paying more attention to their privacy settings, meaning they are editing comments and photos more and being more selective about their friendships:

The report released Friday by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that people are managing their privacy settings and their online reputation more often than they did two years earlier. For example, 44 percent of respondents said in 2011 that they deleted comments from their profile on a social networking site. Only 36 percent said the same thing in 2009…

Along those lines is “profile pruning,” which Pew reports is on the rise. Nearly two-thirds of people on social networks said last year that they had deleted friends, up from 56 percent in 2009. And more people are removing their names from photos than two years ago. This practice is especially common on Facebook, where users can add names of their friends to photos they upload…

Women are much more likely than men to restrict their profiles. Pew found that 67 percent of women set their profiles so that only their “friends” can see it. Only 48 percent of men did the same…

Possibly proving that with age comes wisdom, young adults were more likely to post something regrettable than their older counterparts. Fifteen percent of social network users aged 18 to 29 said they have posted something regrettable. Only 5 percent of people over 50 said the same thing.

Several thoughts about this:

1. This isn’t a huge trend: for both deleting comments and friends, a little less than 10% more users did this than two years ago. If this is a long-term trend that keeps going up 10% every few years, this would be especially noteworthy.

2. This is still a low number of people who say they “posted something regrettable.” These figures seem to suggest that many users are ahead of the game here: they are making sure they are being presented in a good light before it could turn into something regrettable. These figures go against a common media image that social media users regularly do crazy things, are always at risk, or don’t know what they are doing.

3. Is privacy the best word to describe all of this? I wonder if we could call this behavior “selective interaction” as it is more about limiting the display of information to certain people rather than hiding information from everyone. If people truly wanted online privacy, they wouldn’t have a Facebook profile in the first place.

4. The removal of friends is interesting. I wonder if this is more of a function of how long one has had Facebook (tied to realizing that one doesn’t really interact with that many people and all of those friends don’t show up in your news feed even if they are updating their information) or changes in life stages (once one leaves high school or college, does one need to remain friends with all of those people you once ran into or thought you might interact with?).

h/t Instapundit

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