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Measures Like a Teen Majority on Social Networks

A new study shows that more than half of all American teens use online social networking sites. But the study also shows that those hormone-surging masses are using the sites in ways you might not expect.

Defining a social networking site as an online place where a user can create a profile and build a personal network that connects him or her to other users, the Pew Internet & American Life Project said that 55 percent of online American youths ages 12-17 use online social networking sites.

The report also said that 48 percent of teens visit social networking Web sites daily or more often.

Fifty-five percent is a high adoption rate, but not the highest for an online activity among teens.

By comparison, 68 percent of teenagers who go online also instant message, Pew Senior Research Specialist Amanda Lenhart told internetnews.com.

Still, given the horror stories circulated in the media about predators using social networks to stalk teens, 55 percent probably seems plenty high to some parents. But if those parents are worried about their teens exposing private information to strangers, some data in the report should at least provide some solace.

Sixty-six percent of teens who have created a profile say that their profile is not visible to all Internet users, according to the data.

What's more, the report also suggests that most teens use the sites to map their offline social networks in an online environment. Ninety- one percent of all social networking teens say they use the sites to stay in touch with friends they see frequently, while only 49 percent use the sites to make new friends.

Online social network use, Pew's Lenhart said, "is much more about maintaining currently existing relationships either with people you see all the time or with people who are for some reason at a distance, rather than going out and making new friends."

It's behavior that's led USC Annenberg Center fellow and Yahoo! social media researcher Danah Boyd to call the sites social networks instead of social networking sites.

"They are a modeling of pre-existing social networks. They are not an effort to go meet people. The Pew data actively supports that," Boyd told internetnews.com.

In terms of which social networks the Pew report reveals to be the most popular, the survey revealed little surprise.

MySpace, called America's most popular site last summer, remains market leader as 85 percent of teens who have created an online profile say the profile they use or update most often is on MySpace. Seven percent update a profile on Facebook.