Adults see more positive 'tone' on Facebook than teens: study

Feb. 9, 2012 at 10:51 AM ET

A Facebook page is displayed on a computer screen in Brussels April 21, 2010. Over the past six years, social networking has been the Internet's stand-out phenomenon, linking up more than one billion people eager to exchange videos, pictures or last-minute birthday wishes. To match feature: INTERNET-SOCIALMEDIA/PRIVACY REUTERS/Thierry Roge (BELGIUM - Tags: SOCIETY BUSINESS)

Grown-ups have it easier in a lot more ways than their younger counterparts: They can stay up as late as they want, they don't have anyone nagging them to clean up their room — and adult bullying is less of an issue than teen bullying. Maybe that's why more adults than teens view people as more "kind" than nasty on Facebook and other social networking sites, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

Last fall, the center, in a mirror study about teens, found that more than two-thirds of them said their peers are mostly kind to one another in the remarks they make on such sites. But 88 percent said they have seen examples of mean and cruel behavior to others, and 15 percent say they themselves have been the target of such behavior.

In contrast, 85 percent of adults say that people are mostly kind; 49 percent say they have witnessed mean and offensive behavior.

"Significantly smaller proportions of adults have had bad outcomes based on their SNS (social networking site) use such as confrontations, lost friendships, family strife, and fights," Pew said in the report, "The tone of life on social networking sites." 

"Overall, the two surveys show that 41 percent of (social networking site) using teens have had at least one" bad experience, compared with 26 percent of adults.

Pew surveyed 2,260 adults; 87 percent of social networking site users are on Facebook; 14 percent on MySpace, 11 percent use Twitter, 10 percent on LinkedIn, and 13 percent said they use other social networking services.

Among the other findings, when it comes to positive aspects about social networking:

  • 68 percent said they had an experience "that made them feel good about themselves."
  • 61 percent had experiences that "made them feel closer to another person."
  • 39 percent say they "frequently see acts of generosity by other" social networking site users, and 36 percent said they "sometimes" see such behaviors.

"At the same time, notable proportions of (social networking site) users do witness bad behavior on those sites and nearly a third have experienced some negative outcomes from their experiences," Pew said.

Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project /

Nearly half, or 49 percent, said they have seen "mean or cruel behavior displayed by others at least occasionally. And 26 percent said they had experienced at least one of the bad outcomes that were queried in the survey."

Examples of those "bad outcomes" included:

  • 15 percent said they had an experience on the site that "ended their friendship with someone."
  • 12 percent had an experience that "resulted in a face-to-face argument or confrontation with someone."
  • 11 percent had an experience that "caused a problem with their family."
  •   3 percent said they got into a physical fight with someone "based on an experience they had on the site."
  •   3 percent said they got in trouble at work "because of something that happened on the site."

And, 13 percent said that in the last 12 months, "someone had acted in a mean or cruel way towards them."

When adults do see "mean or aggressive behavior" on sites like Facebook, they are more likely than teens to ignore it and not get involved, Pew said: 45 percent of adult social networking site users "who have witnessed problems say they frequently ignore offensive behavior online, compared with 35 percent" of teens.

There's one area where adult behavior is close to that of teens: 19 percent of teens said they "at least occasionally join in the mean and offensive behavior that is being directed at another social networking user," and 15 percent of adults say they do so "at least occasionally."

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