OBJECTIVE. Recently, public attention has focused on the possibility that social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook are being widely used to sexually solicit underage youth, consequently increasing their vulnerability to sexual victimization. Beyond anecdotal accounts, however, whether victimization is more commonly reported in social networking sites is unknown.
PARTICIPANTS AND METHODS. The Growing up With Media Survey is a national cross-sectional online survey of 1588 youth. Participants were 10- to 15-year-old youth who have used the Internet at least once in the last 6 months. The main outcome measures were unwanted sexual solicitation on the Internet, defined as unwanted requests to talk about sex, provide personal sexual information, and do something sexual, and Internet harassment, defined as rude or mean comments, or spreading of rumors.
RESULTS. Fifteen percent of all of the youth reported an unwanted sexual solicitation online in the last year; 4% reported an incident on a social networking site specifically. Thirty-three percent reported an online harassment in the last year; 9% reported an incident on a social networking site specifically. Among targeted youth, solicitations were more commonly reported via instant messaging (43%) and in chat rooms (32%), and harassment was more commonly reported in instant messaging (55%) than through social networking sites (27% and 28%, respectively).
CONCLUSIONS. Broad claims of victimization risk, at least defined as unwanted sexual solicitation or harassment, associated with social networking sites do not seem justified. Prevention efforts may have a greater impact if they focus on the psychosocial problems of youth instead of a specific Internet application, including funding for online youth outreach programs, school antibullying programs, and online mental health services.