The Attorney General's Office (AGO) recently had the opportunity to work with the Boston University AdLab in an effort to gather real-time information on the use, by college-aged students, of social networking sites. The AGO wanted to examine the degree to which young adults are aware of the limits of privacy on the internet.

Results of the Study

Not surprisingly, the AdLab found that communicating through social networking websites was second-nature to the study participants. However, while student were aware that the sites are inherently public, they were unaware of how public the information on these sites is and how that information can be used against them.

Through case studies and questionnaires, the researchers examined the students' use patterns and assessed their awareness of privacy and ethics online. The results reflect that while students regularly use the Internet in general, and social networking sites in particular, to find information about others online, many study participants had a "blind spot" in not fully realizing that the same type of a search could be performed about them.

The students in the study recognized that a person must take responsibility for his or her online profile, but insisted that it was wrong to judge that person by what he or she chose to post online.

In general, the study participants were only vaguely aware that people other than peers and classmates might be looking at their profiles. Instead, the students somewhat naïvely expected a degree of personal and professional separation online even if potential hiring managers, internship coordinators, or athletic coaches were viewing the materials online. In reality, the delineation between a person's "virtual" and "real" life appears to exist only for the college-aged participants. They appeared uncomfortable with the notion that few others make a similar distinction.

For More Information

More information on the use of social networking sites by teens and young adults is available at the following websites: