Northwestern study: Some young adults pay more attention to social media privacy than others

Edward Cox, Assistant Summer Editor

Some young adults may be more likely than others to manage their presence on social media with employers in mind, according to a new study by Northwestern researchers.

Hispanics are least likely to manage their privacy settings on their online profiles while their white peers tend to be more self-conscious of what they are posting, the study says. Women are more likely than men to manage their privacy on social media.

Communication Prof. Eszter Hargittai and doctoral student Eden Litt co-authored the research paper, which focused on how demographics and Internet skills influence young adults’ use of privacy settings on social media.

Alice Harra, interim director of University Career Services, said students should be aware that content posted on social media can be visible to employers.

More than 500 graduates of and current students at the University of Illinois at Chicago were given two surveys on how they used the Internet, one in 2009 and the other in 2012. UIC was picked for the study because of its diverse student population.

To measure young adults’ privacy savvy on social networks, the respondents were asked how familiar they were with online terms such as “tagging,” “bcc” and “hashtag.”

The research found that young adults with more knowledge of online privacy issues managed privacy settings on their social media profiles more often. Hargittai and Litt proposed that Web designers could make privacy tools easier to use and default privacy settings more transparent.

That Hispanics were least likely to monitor their privacy settings than all other groups was “disconcerting” because minorities who have traditionally faced hiring discrimination tend to use the Internet most in job searches, according to the study.

Contrary to the trend among young adults who use social media without having an employer audience in mind, some NU students seem to “lock content down” on their profiles, Hargittai said.

“That’s not necessarily the best strategy, either because there is competition for competitive internships and jobs, so you want to show off what you have to bring,” Hargittai said.

Assistant summer editor Edward Cox can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at