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Most teens have seen bad behavior on social media sites, study shows

Although the majority of teenagers who use social media sites say their peers are mostly kind to one another, 88% say they've witnessed people being mean and cruel on such sites, a Pew Research Center study shows.

November 09, 2011|By Andrea Chang, Los Angeles Times

The majority of teenagers who use social networking websites say their peers are mostly kind to one another online, but 88% still say they've witnessed people being mean and cruel on such sites, according to a new study. Fifteen percent say they've been the target of bad behavior on social media sites.

The findings come from a report called "Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites: How American teens navigate the new world of 'digital citizenship,'" which is based on seven focus groups with teens and a survey of 799 youths 12 to 17 and their parents.

The study, conducted by Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, found that social media use is widespread among teens, with 95% of 12- to 17-year-olds using the Internet. Of those, 80% use social media sites.

When it comes to bad conduct online, 80% of teen social media users say they have defended a victim of meanness and cruelty and 79% said they have told someone to stop mean behavior on a social network site. However, 21% said they have joined in on the harassment.

"Social networking sites have created new spaces for teens to interact, and they witness a mixture of altruism and cruelty," said Amanda Lenhart, the study's lead author. "For most teens, these are exciting and rewarding spaces. But the majority have also seen a darker side."

Teens said they received advice about online safety from a variety of people. Parents are the top source, with 86% of teens saying they have received advice from their parents about how to use the Internet safely and responsibly, and 70% have received advice from a teacher or other adult at school.

Teens report that parents are also the biggest influence on shaping what they think is appropriate or inappropriate behavior when going online or using a cellphone. At the same time, 18% of teens say that no one has influenced them about their attitudes toward online behavior.

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