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Poll: 55% of teens network online

MySpace site is the clear winner

Among teens with an online profile, 85 percent of those surveyed said they mainly use MySpace. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News/File 2006)

SAN FRANCISCO -- More than half of US teenagers use social networking sites like MySpace, but girls go online to reaffirm existing friendships, while boys are more often there to flirt, according to a survey of youth ages 12 to 17 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

The survey showed that two-thirds of teens who have created social networking profiles limit site access to selected viewers, while 17 percent use their sites to flirt.

The study shows teenagers are aware of the risks of revealing too much data about themselves and are taking steps to protect their privacy -- a concern that has made the sites controversial with parents, school officials, and politicians.

"These sites are places where you can express yourself not so much to the world, but really to a core group of friends," said Mary Madden, a coauthor of the study. "They are a stable place where friends can find you."

Boys 15 to 17 are more likely (60 percent) than girls in that age range to use social networking sites (46 percent) to make new friends. Twenty-nine percent of these boys use these sites to flirt, but only 13 percent of the girls said they do so.

In focus groups Pew conducted among teenagers ahead of the phone survey, girls said they feared the "creepy 40-year-old man coming after them" but no participant reported incidents of adult strangers actually contacting them, Madden said.

Girls 15 to 17 were more likely to have created online profiles on social networking sites, with 70 percent having done so, compared with 57 percent of boys the same age.

The data, based on phone interviews with 935 young people in October and November, show that 55 percent of all US youths with online connections use social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, or Xanga.

Ninety-one percent of all teens using such sites say they use them to stay in touch with friends they see frequently, while 82 percent use them to stay in contact with friends they rarely see.

Eighty-five percent of those who have an online profile mainly use MySpace, and 7 percent have a Facebook profile.

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