What Are Adolescents Showing the World About Their Health Risk Behaviors on MySpace?

Megan A. Moreno, MD, MSEd; Malcolm Parks, PhD; Laura P. Richardson, MD, MPH

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In This Article

Abstract

Context: MySpace is a popular social networking Web site where users create individual Web profiles. Little data are available about what types of health risk behaviors adolescents display on MySpace profiles. There are potential risks and intervention opportunities associated with posting such information on a public Web site.
Objective: To examine publicly available 16- and 17-year-old MySpace Web profiles and determine the prevalence of personal risk behavior descriptions and identifiable information.
Design: Cross-sectional observational study using content analysis of Web profiles.
Setting: www.MySpace.com
Patients: In order to target frequently visited adolescent Web profiles, we sequentially selected 142 publicly available Web profiles of 16 and 17 year olds from the class of 2008 MySpace group.
Interventions: None.
Main outcome measures: Prevalence of displayed health risk behaviors pertaining to substance use or sexual behavior, prevalence of personally identifying information, date of last log-in to Web profile.
Results: Of Web profiles, 47% contained risk behavior information: Twenty-one percent described sexual activity; 25% described alcohol use; 9% described cigarette use; and 6% described drug use.
97.2% Contained personally identifying information: Seventy-four percent included an identifiable picture; 75% included subjects' first names or surnames; and 78% included subjects' hometowns. Eighty-six percent of users had visited their own profiles within 24 hours.
Conclusions: Most 16- and 17-year-old MySpace profiles include identifiable information, are frequently accessed by owners, and half include personal risk behavior information. Further study is needed to assess the risks associated with displaying personal information and to evaluate the use of social networking sites for health behavior interventions targeting at-risk teens.


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