Connecting and protecting? Comparing predictors of self-disclosure and privacy settings use between adolescents and adults


The present study serves two purposes. First, we explore how adolescents and adults approach the disclosure of personal information and the application of privacy settings on social network sites (SNS). Second, we investigate whether the factors that predict these two privacy-management strategies differ for adolescents and adults. To achieve the goals of this study, an online survey was conducted among a sample of 1484 SNS users ranging in age from 10 to 65 years. In addition to gender and age, we investigated the following predictors: frequency of and motives for SNS use, trust in other users, peer influence and concerns related to privacy and contact risks. The results show that adolescents disclose more personal data and apply more lenient privacy settings to these data than adults do. Several factors were found to affect disclosure and profile-access management, with differences between adolescents and adults in some cases. Finally, we discuss implications emerging from the study’s findings.

social network sites; self-disclosure; privacy settings; adults; adolescents
Author biographies

Michel Walrave

Author photo Michel Walrave is an associate professor at the department of Communication Studies of the University of Antwerp. He leads the research group MIOS that conducts research on, amongst others, young people’s ICT uses. His research focuses on societal implications of ICT, and ICT-use related privacy risks in particular. He has conducted several research projects on e-marketing, social networking sites and privacy and on cyberbullying. He teaches courses on societal implications of ICT, marketing communications and e-marketing. Michel Walrave holds a master’s degree in Communication Studies, a Master in Information Science and a PhD in Social Sciences.

Ini Vanwesenbeeck

Author photo Ini Vanwesenbeeck is a PhD student at the Communication Studies department at the University of Antwerp, research group Media & ICT in Organisations & Society (MIOS). Her main field of interest concerns the link between children and ICT, with a strong emphasis on (internet) advertisement. In the past, she participated in several projects regarding eSafety and youth. Currently, Ini Vanwesenbeeck is working on the research project entitled "Cognitive development in a digital world: children and persuasive communication on the Internet", a research funded by the FWO, Research Foundation Flanders.

Wannes Heirman

Author photo Wannes Heirman is a research and teaching assistant at the department of Communication Studies of the University of Antwerp. After obtaining his master's degree in Communication Sciences (University of Antwerp, 2006), he started doing research work for the research team MIOS. In the period 2008-2009 he worked on a research report concerning cyberbullying. This report was destined for the Belgian Internet Rights Observatory and ultimately resulted in a policy advice. Besides the topic of cyberbullying, he has a broad interest for research into how information and communication technologies are impacting the daily lives of young children and teenagers. The main focus of his PhD-research is devoted to the question how young children and teenagers deal with their privacy on the Internet.

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