Friday, April 04, 2008

Ofcom's Study into Social networking

Having returned from a 2-day conference, Surveillance and Society, held at University of Sheffield (more to follow at a later stage), there has been a recent study published by Ofcom on Social networking. Some of the results stems from attitudes to social networking websites (no surprises about the likely usergroups):

Social networkers differ in their attitudes to social networking sites and in their behaviour while using them. Ofcom’s qualitative research indicates that site users tend to fall into five distinct groups based on their behaviours and attitudes. These are as follows:

  • Alpha Socialisers (a minority) – people who used sites in intense short bursts to flirt, meet new people, and be entertained.
  • Attention Seekers – (some) people who craved attention and comments from others, often by posting photos and customising their profiles.
  • Followers – (many) people who joined sites to keep up with what their peers were doing.
  • Faithfuls – (many) people who typically used social networking sites to rekindle old friendships, often from school or university.
  • Functionals – (a minority) people who tended to be single-minded in using sites for a particular purpose.
Non-users of social networking sites also fall into distinct groups

Non-users also appear to fall into distinct groups; these groups are based on their reasons for not using social networking sites:

  • Concerned about safety – people concerned about safety online, in particular making personal details available online.
  • Technically inexperienced – people who lack confidence in using the internet and computers.
  • Intellectual rejecters – people who have no interest in social networking sites and see them as a waste of time.
Although privacy was not given a high priority, some of the reasons that Ofcom has identified:
  • a lack of awareness of the issues;
  • an assumption that privacy and safety issues have been taken care of by the sites themselves;
  • low levels of confidence among users in their ability to manipulate privacy settings;
  • information on privacy and safety being hard to find on sites;
  • a feeling among younger users that they are invincible;
  • a perception that social networking sites are less dangerous than other online activities, such as internet banking; and, for some,
  • having consciously evaluated the risks, making the decision that they could be managed.
Whilst one is not wholly convinced about the lack of awareness, given that the ICO has published guidelines on the use of social networking, the use certainly has become more mainstream.


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