Article

Social media: 2332 Flemish people, 8 profiles

Social media play an increasingly important role in the daily life of the Fleming. They create a range of opportunities to communicate, learn, exchange information and manage relationships in a new way. Unfortunately, the use of social media also brings along unavoidable risks, such as cyberbullying, loss of privacy and commercial use of personal information. It is therefore important that everyone, young and old, at home, at school or at work, is able to interact with social media in an efficient and responsible way, to maximally utilize their advantages and avoid their risks, also called social media literacy.

In the scope of the User Empowerment in a Social Media Culture project, the research group for Media and ICT (MICT), in collaboration with the VUB and KUL, set up a large scale survey to determine what the impact of social media is on the daily life of the Fleming. Which social media do we use? Can we work with them? Do we know what goes on with our personal information? To answer these and other questions, the Flemish people were asked about their use and knowledge of, ideas on and skills to interact with social media. In this way, we received an image of who is up to date on the field of social media, how social media literate the Fleming is, and how people think about much discussed privacy issues.

From the survey, who has been filled in by 2332 Flemings older than 15, appears that not everyone uses social media the same way or has the same attitudes about it. On the contrary, for the use of Facebook and Twitter, specific distinguished user profiles pop up. Some of them are technically competent, but not at all critical towards for example how social media can confine their privacy. Others are scared to share things online because they do not know how exactly the platforms work and what can happen. However, none of the determined user profiles can be considered as really social media literate: none of the groups have both good technical skills, and the necessary critical attitude and a well-considered affective evaluation of social media. Below, we briefly describe the user profiles. We found five for Facebook and three for Twitter. The profiles vary on age and gender, and have each a specific combination of technical skills, knowledge, critical thinking and attitudes. The different profiles can help teachers, parents, organizations, governments and other interested parties to organize initiatives, customized to a certain group, to enhance their effectiveness.

FACEBOOK

The uninterested user            5% | oldest | ♂

The first user group consists of Flemish people that use Facebook the least and perform the least activities on it. These uninterested users have a rather negative attitudes towards Facebook and have a mediocre knowledge and critical attitude. Of all groups, this group has the weakest technical skills. People in this group are probably socially or professionally encouraged to use Facebook. It can be teachers, who received an introduction to Facebook to go with the changing media use of their students, or parents who use social media to track the activities of their children, but do not have any further interest in it. The uninterested user has a basic understanding of Facebook, but does not intend to use the platform him-/herself more often.

The reckless user                    9% | younger | ♀

The second group consists of Flemish people who use Facebook the most and can do a lot of different activities on it. They have the least knowledge on the platform of all the profiles and are not at all critical towards Facebook. Their technical skills are low (only the uninterested users are less technical competent) and they stand neutral towards Facebook. They do not see the risks that accompany social media use (or they do not want to see them), what makes that nothing withholds them to just do what they want to do (explaining the large variation of the activities they perform). The reckless user does not give his or her actions a moment’s thought, and is not at all careful on social media. Their reckless behavior brings dangers with, but they do not realize this because of their low knowledge of Facebook.

The habitual user                    31% | youngest | ♀

We call this group habitual users because they visit Facebook the most of all users, but perform less activities on it than the reckless user. Frequency of use and diversity of activities are not necessarily linked to each other: people can, out of habit, visit a platform often without doing much on it. The habitual user a rather positive attitude towards Facebook, and has a lot of knowledge on the platform. The user perceives him-/herself very capable to use Facebook and judges him-/herself very technically competent, possibly because of the frequent visits. These users are probably the ones who keep performing the same activities on social media, as a routine or out of boredom, such as scrolling through the news overview and posting status updates.

The careful user                      20% | younger | ♀

The fourth profile consists of user who do not often use Facebook and do not perform a lot of different activities on it. They have good technical skills and are very critical towards the platform, despite the fact they almost have no knowledge about it. We call them the careful users. These people possibly moderate their social media use out of self-protection. They realize that they have not enough knowledge to use Facebook without any danger and so they restrain themselves, however without becoming pessimistic. The careful user has, probably because of his or her lack of knowledge about the potential risks, the most positive attitude towards Facebook out of all user groups. So they are careful in an intuitive way: they do not really know what could go wrong and for what they need to be cautious, but they are aware that there are dangers and thus think hard about each activity they perform.

The critical user                      35% | younger | ♀

The last group uses Facebook regularly and performs a diversity of activities on the platform. However, they are a lot more critical than for example the reckless users and have the most knowledge of Facebook out of all groups. Their technical skills are not particularly high, which indicates that having knowledge does not necessarily leads to users utilizing all advantages of social media on different fields. Their critical perception is possibly reflected in how technically competent they judge themselves and these users evaluate themselves as less competent because of the awareness they have on the number of complex activities and mechanisms hidden behind Facebook.  This group has the most negative attitude out of all groups. They probably use Facebook longer and have had the time to get to know the platform and critically evaluate it. The acquired knowledge in combination with their critical perception sees to it that they became pessimistic about the risks that accompany the use of Facebook. The critical users consciously think about each step they take, but do not restrain themselves, contrary to the careful users, because they are aware of the risks and dangers. An important side note with this group is that, despite they are the most critical of all the groups, this does not necessarily mean they are really critical. Few Flemish people are aware of what happens with their personal information and almost nobody reads the terms of use and the privacy policy of social media. So even these “critical users” are still rather clueless when it comes to certain aspects of social media.

TWITTER

The careful user                      8% | oldest | ♀

The first group of Twitter users uses Twitter the least and performs little diverse activities on it. The careful user has very weak technical skills, but does have a lot of knowledge on and a critical attitude towards Twitter. The users have a negative attitude; they know a lot about Twitter and give what they do on it a moment’s thought, but also realize that they are not that technical competent in what they do. This user group has indeed not the best skills, but careful users do reflect more often about their (little) activities and about Twitter than the functional users. Maybe they restrain themselves a bit on the platform as a form of self-protection (which can also explain why they did not develop better technical skills).

The functional user                 50% | youngest | ♀

This second profile uses Twitter not that often and does not perform many different activities on it. They have better technical skills than the careful users and are thus more equipped to work with Twitter, however they do not use these skills often. They do not critical think about the platform and have little knowledge on Twitter, less than the careful and critical users. The functional user has a rather positive attitude towards Twitter. In comparison with the Facebook profiles, this functional Twitter user lies somewhere between the reckless and the habitual user: the group has the strong technical capabilities of the habitual user and the lack of knowledge and critical thinking of the reckless user. The main difference is that the frequency of use and the variation of activities with Twitter are a lot less, probably because of the more professional nature of Twitter.

The critical user                      42% | younger | ♀

The last Twitter profile uses the platform the most out of all profiles and also performs the most diverse activities on it. They are also the most positive towards the platform. The critical user has good technical skills, a critical attitude and a lot of knowledge. This group has had the time to learn how Twitter works and to evaluate the platform critically, which makes them optimistic and gives them the confidence to use Twitter.