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New ACMA Report: Young Australians’ Use of Online Social Media

05 August, 2009
By Allison Orr

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has released a new report, Click and Connect: Young Australians’ Use of Online Social Media.  The report is in two parts, a qualitative and quantitative report.  The report examines young people’s use of social media, focusing on how, why and when they encounter risks when they go online.

The research finds that the Internet is a regular part of the everyday life of children.  Exposure to the Internet and social networking starts at a young age; at 8 to 10 years of age the Internet is regarded as mostly a source of entertainment, with interaction via online games sites from about the age of 10.  From highschool, about age 12, children tend to have accounts and be regular users of social networking sites and services.  At this age, it is mainly used for chatting with people they know offline.  For older teenagers, social networking sites are often used as a platform to meet and chat with members of the opposite gender.  By the age of 16 and 17, many have friendships that are purely online.

As children get older, they are using social networking sites more often, and are exposed to significantly more requests for personal information and other forms of contact such as webcams and Instant Messaging.  The desire to post personal details on social networking sites also increases with age.  However, the report found that children and young people have a high awareness of the risks associated with online social networking.  The majority were able to identify activities such as posting personal information as high risk behaviour.  This awareness notwithstanding, the report also found a disconnect between the awareness of risk and their actual behaviour online.  To many, the Internet is still viewed as a game; it is not the real world and therefore the risks are not real either.

The study found that parental supervision and monitoring declines with age, and while parents express concern about cybersafety issues, few have accessed the existing safety resources. 

The research is intended to provide a greater insight into the role online social media plays in the lives on children and young people in Australia as part of a review to update the current cybersafety products and programs aimed at children.  The report finds a greater focus needs to be on developing resources for parents that are easy to access and use.  It also needs to provide information to teenagers that engages directly with them in their own language.

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