The Familyandmedia research team has recently conducted a study on the effects of the use of new technologies and media content by Italian teenagers. One of the aspects that the researchers focused on most was the relationship of young people with social networks.
The study was conducted in 2016 in three different cities (Bari, Perugia, and Rome) on a panel comprised of 60 boys and girls, equally divided between males and females, ages 13-18.
It aimed to delve into the main ways of using social networks, focusing in particular on an aspect that up until now had not yet been explored: that of the false identity and anonymity on social networks by young people.
All the information was collected through a game, without telling the kids that it was a social study, to promote maximum openness and spontaneity in their answers.
The researcher had subjected young people to a game of company, Privacy Traders, which provided for the juxtaposition of two teams. The activity was followed by a small debriefing, during which the participants expressed criticisms about the game, without knowing that the real purpose of that focus group was to allow the researcher of Familyandmedia to collect data and know how they normally use social media.
From the synthesis of the results of the game and the related focus groups, three main macro aspects emerged:
1) Presence and use of social networks
All the participants declared their participation and use of at leasttwo social networks (the lowest common denominator is Whatsapp). The reasons are essentially three:
- to stay in touch with friends/organize themselves with friends;
- entertainment/exchange of funny videos or photos;
- talk about hobbies/interests (soccer teams, tutorials, celebrities, musicians, etc.).
2) False identity and anonymity on social networks
This is one of the most innovative aspects of the research. Almost all the participants said they did not feel the need to have a fake account and easily add their parents and siblings to their media contacts. The boys and girls also distinctly understand the difference between anonymity and a false identity. Between the two situations they prefer to be anonymous rather than to lie under a false identity.
The kids do not underestimate the issue of fake profiles in regards to the use of their virtual relationships; in fact, all have shown to have an enormous awareness on the dangers they may come across online. Girls in particular, regardless of age, are aware of the fact that they may face attempts of solitication on the net and have demonstrated a certain ability to identify "fake profiles" when they come in contactwith people who are not in their circle of friendships and acquaintances. In essence, we can say that the difference between anonymity and false identity is clear to young people and they consider the value of "sincerity" important, even in the virtual world.
3) Knowledge of the mechanisms and business models related to social networks
If, on the previous point, the participants showed a greater awareness and maturity than expected, they showed very little about this aspect. To questions like: "Do you know why social networks are free?", "If they do not sell anything, do you know what the exchange goods are?", "Why do they ask you for personal information?" and to other questions in the same vein, students did not know how to answer. It is surprising how, in some cases, they have come to think that social media are practically charity organizations. To the question "Why are social media free?", not only did none of the 60 participants know how to answer, but the overwhelming majority of them said they never even considered it a problem. This let us know that children should be encouraged to reflect more on what is behind the existence of these means, so as to educate them to be judicious in the release of their personal information and to defend their own privacy.
To read the full text of the study by Familyandmedia on young people and social networks and to learn other data and oddities about the relationship with videogames and TV series, download the ebook of the research here for free .