International Forum of Educational Technology & Society

International Forum of Educational Technology & Society

Middle School Students’ Social Media Use

Author(s): Florence Martin, Chuang Wang, Teresa Petty, Weichao Wang and Patti Wilkins

Source: Journal of Educational Technology & Society , Vol. 21, No. 1 (January 2018), pp. 213-224

Published by: International Forum of Educational Technology & Society

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Martin, F., Wang, C., Petty, T., Wang, W., & Wilkins, P. (2018). Middle School Students’ Social Media Use. Educational

Technology & Society, 21 (1), 213–224.

213 ISSN 1436-4522 (online) and 1176-3647 (print). This article of the Journal of Educational Technology & Society is available under Creative Commons CC-BY-ND-NC

3.0 license ( For further queries, please contact Journal Editors at

Middle School Students’ Social Media Use

Florence Martin*, Chuang Wang, Teresa Petty, Weichao Wang and Patti Wilkins University of North Carolina Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, USA // // // // // *Corresponding author


ABSTRACT Cyber bullying, digital identity, impact of digital footprints, and use of inappropriate social media are topics

that are gaining attention in K-12 schools. As more schools and school districts are implementing 1-1 and

“bring your own technology” initiatives, attention to these topics is becoming increasingly important. A

total of 593 middle school students were surveyed about digital footprints and concerns about social media.

The results show that 17% started using social media at age nine or younger, 40% accepted friend requests

from people they do not know, and 40% reported that their parents did not monitor their social media use,

which calls for the needs of cyber-security education. These middle school students reported using social

media most often to connect with their friends, share pictures, and find out what others are doing. They

indicated that Instagram (27%), SnapChat (25%) and YouTube (25%) were their most used social media

sites. These students have concerns about social media due to inappropriate postings, getting hacked,

getting their feelings hurt, lack of privacy, inappropriate pictures, bullying, negativity, and stalkers. This

study informs teachers, administrators, technology facilitators and parents on social media use by students.


Keywords Digital citizenship, Social media use, Middle school, Digital footprints



As students are increasingly engaged in technology and cyber learning at very young ages, there is a heightened

concern for their safety. Cyber bullying, impact of digital footprints, and inappropriate use of social media are

topics that are gaining attention. As more schools and school districts are implementing 1-1 and “bring your own

technology” initiatives (Dunleavy, Dexter, & Heinecke, 2007; Lowther, Ross, & Morrison, 2003) attention to

these topics is critical to the welfare of our students. The literature on social media use among teenagers points to

benefits as well as risks for this population. On one hand, social media use provides great opportunities for

connecting with others, creating and being part of online communities that foster creativity, knowledge and civic

participation. For example, Facebook allows students to connect outside the classroom and collaborate on

assignments and projects, thus creating more opportunities for learning. Through social media, youth can find

out about volunteering opportunities and local political events (O’Keefe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011).


On the other hand, social media use presents several societal risks for middle school and high school students.

Many have expressed concerns that this use may have negative impacts on various areas of teenage life. This

was supported by a study that indicated that Internet use as little as three hours per week could lead to depression

and social isolation in teenagers (Kraut, Patterson, Lundmark, Kiesler, Mukopadhyay & Scherlis, 1998).

However, a recent study conducted with 130 7th-graders from a middle class public school in California on

Internet use revealed that overall Internet usage had no significant correlation with psychological adjustment.

Interestingly, this study found that teenagers who scored higher on social anxiety and loneliness measures were

more likely to communicate via instant messaging with acquaintances. Even teenagers who felt well supported

and connected to their peers at school sought out additional opportunities to interact with people they did not

know well but very few close friendships were actually developed online (Gross, Juvonen & Gable, 2002). This

raised questions about whether or not this makes anxious and lonely adolescents more vulnerable to online



To investigate this issue, Dowell, Burgess and Cavanaugh (2009), surveyed 404 middle school students on their

engagement in online risky behaviors. 31% of the sample reported posting personal information on social

networking sites, including a picture of themselves. Twenty two percent of boys (compared to 6% of girls)

reported having searched the topic of sex on the Internet and roughly, 40% of both boys and girls reported

having encountered sexually inappropriate material on the Internet. Approximately 28% of the participants

reported being harassed or bullied on social media sites. Furthermore, the results of this study indicated that

simply posting your picture on a social media site did not necessarily constitute a risky behavior. However, the

clustering of various risky behaviors such as posting the name of school and email address, corresponding with

unknown persons, initiating online sex and online harassment, and overriding Internet filters and blocks may

place vulnerable youth at jeopardy (Dowell et al., 2009). However, others have argued that previous claims that

social networking sites present a great risk of victimization, as in unwanted sexual harassment and solicitation,

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seem to be unfounded. Out of 1588 middle school students surveyed recently on this issue, 15% reported an

unwanted sexual solicitation online (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2008).


A recent large national survey of 1588 middle school youth, ages 10-15, found that 32% had experienced online

harassment, among which, 43% were via instant messaging (IM) in chatrooms and 28% via social networking

sites (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2008). However, some empirical data is inconsistent with these results. For example, a

recent study examining cyber bullying amongst middle school students was conducted with 1,915 girls and 1,852

boys in grades 6, 7, and 8 who attended any of six elementary and middle schools in the southeastern and

northwestern United States (Kowalski & Limber, 2007). In this study only 11% (n = 407) of the students

qualified as victims of cyber bullying and 78% (n = 2961) had no experience with cyber bullying. Cyber

bullying victims are also victims of school bullying with nonheterosexual youth reporting more incidences.

Cyber bullying leads to elevated levels of distress and depression and sometimes to suicide attempts (Schneider,

O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). Generally speaking, social media sites may influence suicide-related

behavior negatively as well as positively. For example, studies have found that youth often encounter suicide-

related content on message boards, chatrooms and YouTube videos. However, social networking sites such as

YouTube and Facebook can also help with suicide prevention by providing information and connection to

suicide prevention websites and hotlines (Luxton, June & Fairall, 2012).



Digital citizenship

The results on the use of social media have resulted in the need to educate K-12 students on becoming digital

citizens who exhibit “the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regards to technology use” (p. 7) as

defined by Ribble (2004). International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) lists digital citizenship as an

important aspect of educational technology. Ribble (2014), in his book titled “Digital citizenship in schools,”

lists 9 elements of digital citizenship under the framework of Protect, Respect, and Educate.


Figure 1. Nine elements of Digital Citizenship based on Ribble’s framework


International Society for Technology Education in their National Educational Technology Standards for students

(NETS-S) focus on Digital Citizenship in standard 5 (ISTE, 2016) (see Table 1).


Table 1. NETS-S Standard 5 – Digital Citizenship

NETS-S Standard 5 – Digital Citizenship

Students understand human, cultural and

societal issues related to technology and

practice legal, and ethical behavior


 Advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of

information and technology

 Exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports

collaboration, learning, and productivity

 Demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning

 Exhibit leadership for digital citizenship

In the section below, we review some of the key digital citizenship topics that K-12 students need to be educated

about based on Ribble’s framework and ISTE NETS-S Standard 5.




Digital Access Digital

Commerce Digital

Communication Digital Literacy

Digital Etiquette

Digital Law Digital Rights

and Responsibilities

Digital Health and Wellness

Digital Security

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Cyber bullying


One of the most talked about risks of social media use among teenagers is cyber bullying and online harassment,

which is defined as “deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information

about another person” (O’Keefe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011). Cyber bullying takes place when someone

deliberately upsets or harasses someone else repeatedly using online or mobile technology. Signs of cyber

bullying are when kids harass or embarrass others publicly, spread rumors, post hurtful information or images

online, or say mean things that humiliate others in public. The effects of cyber bullying on students can lead to

depression, thoughts of violence, and even suicide. When cyber bullying occurs, there is an obvious misuse of

the online or mobile technology, requiring parents and schools to get involved (Ahn, Bivona, & DiScala, 2011;

Al-Khateeb, & Epiphaniou, 2016).



Digital netiquette


When students are online interacting with others there are some “unspoken rules” that guide them on how to

behave and communicate called netiquette (Brown, 2014). Students need to learn the do’s and don’ts of

appropriate online behavior. Typically, different sites or online interactions require specific netiquette. For

example, Facebook requires certain netiquette when posting comments, such as being polite, avoiding sarcasm,

and avoiding rudeness or “shouting” (writing in ALL CAPS). Netiquette is also required when posting images,

such as being authentic or linking to sources. Bottom line, basic netiquette is required to avoid discriminatory,

defamatory or derogatory remarks online, and encourage being respectful and sensitive to others’ cultural

differences. Researchers have designed reward based systems to help children develop good behaviors online

(Valentine, Leyva-McMurtry, Borgos-Rodriguez, & Hammond, 2016).



Digital footprints


The culture of sharing information online is great for young people who want to express themselves, collaborate,

and socialize with others. However, students need to become aware of the “digital footprint” they leave online

and reflect on the kind of personal information they share about themselves (Grayson, 2011; Madden, Fox,

Smith, & Vitak, 2007; Malhotra, Totti, Meira Jr, Kumaraguru, & Almeida, 2012). Today, anything can be created,

copied, pasted, and shared to thousands of people online almost instantly. Each online post, image, or message is

permanent and stored as a “digital footprint” that can be retrieved years later by classmates, teachers, college

admissions officers, future employers, or the general public. Students should understand the public and

permanent nature of the Internet so they can begin to build a positive digital footprint. Students need to learn

more than just how to guard personal information, how to protect their own privacy, and how to respect others’

privacy. Guiding students to self-reflect before they self-reveal is a fundamental technique to assist them with

consciously managing how they decide to present themselves online.



Digital privacy


Most middle school students are now accessing email, social media, online videos, and games, most of which

require log in accounts, usernames and passwords. Students should learn how to create strong passwords and

protect their private information on their user accounts. Aside from this, students must be careful about

permissions when downloading files, media, or content online; most websites have privacy, copyright,

plagiarism, fair use, and creative credit policies that students need to be aware of. For older students, it is

necessary to understand the concept of identity theft, data theft, online viruses, and online scams, where third

party companies “steal” personal information such as passwords, credit card information, and social security

numbers to commit crime or fraud online. Students need to know where the boundaries are when sharing

information about oneself and others online.



Digital identity


A vital part of growing up is forming our identity. Identity is often reflected as how you perceive yourself as well

as how others perceive you. It is manifested in our relationships with others, our sense of self, and reputation. As

students navigate websites and use various apps on their mobile devices, they use photos (i.e., avatars), “likes,”

and “favorites lists” for example, to show (or hide) different aspects of their identities. Many times, people can

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choose to be “anonymous” when they are asked to present an online identity, however, this is not the case

offline. Students need to understand the similarities and differences in how they present themselves online and

offline, particularly what it means to be responsible for their actions even when they are not easily identifiable or

anonymous. Students also need to consider how different forms of self-expression forms their online identity and

how online identity can be different from one’s real self.



Middle school students and social media use

A 2013 report of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project on teen social media usage

between 2006 and 2012, reported that 95% of teens (N = 802) ages 12-17 used the Internet and eight out of ten

online teens used some kind of social media, mainly Facebook and Twitter. Facebook attracted 77% of online

teens. Still, 24% of online teens used Twitter, a figure that is up from 16% in 2011 and 8% in late 2009.

Teenagers’ use of Twitter now overtakes that of adults (Madden, Lenhart, Cortessi, Gasser, Duggan, Smith, &

Beaton, 2013). Overall, 94% of teens said they have a Facebook profile, and 81% said that Facebook is the

profile they use most often. One in four teens said that they have a profile or account on Twitter and 11% have a

profile or account on Instagram. By comparison, only 7% of teen social media users said they maintain a

Myspace account, and none of the survey respondents said MySpace is the account they used most often. That is

in stark contrast to the 85% of teens who said in 2006 that MySpace was their most frequently used profile

(Madden et al., 2013). In 2015, according to the Pew Research Center statistics, 71% of youth between ages 13-

17 (N = 1,060) use Facebook, followed by Instagram (52%), Snapchat (41%), Twitter (33%), Google+(33%),

Vine (24%), and tumbler (14%) and 71% reported using two or more sites (Lenhart, Duggan, Perrin, Stepler,

Rainie & Parker, 2015)


Older teens that are social media users more frequently share: photos of themselves on their profile (94% older

teens vs. 82% of younger teens), their school name (76% vs. 56%), their relationship status (66% vs. 50%), and

their cell phone number (23% vs. 11%) (Madden et al., 2013). The 2004 Pew Research Center’s Internet &

American Life Project survey, showed that 39% of online teens shared their own artistic creations online, such as

artwork, photos, stories, or videos, 33% created or worked on webpages or blogs for others, including those for

groups they belong to, friends, or school assignments, 28% created their own online journal or blog, 27%

maintained their own personal webpage, 26% remixed content they found online into their own creations

(Lenhart, Madden, Rankin & Aaron, 2007).


Parents of the surveyed teens were asked a related question: “How concerned are you about how much

information advertisers can learn about your child’s online behavior?” A full 81% of parents report being “very”

or “somewhat” concerned, with 46% reporting they are “very concerned.” Just 19% report that they are “not too

concerned” or “not at all concerned” about how much advertisers could learn about their child’s online activities

(Madden et al., 2013). In this report, 65% of 12-13-year-olds use social media compared to 89% of 14-17-year-

olds. Amongst the younger teens (12-13), 52% report using social media daily compared to 73% of older teens

(14-17). Older teens tend to visit social media several times a day and tend to have a larger number of friends or

followers than younger teens (Lenhart et al., 2015). Due to the widespread availability of smartphones, 24% of

youth between ages 13-17 go online almost constantly. The Pew Research Center reported in 2015 showed that

87% of teens (N = 1,060) had access to a desktop or laptop computer, 81% had access to a gaming console, 73%

had access to a smartphone, 58% a tablet computer, and 30% a basic cell phone. The report indicated that 91% of

teens accessed social media sites using the Internet on their smartphones (Lenhart et al., 2015).



Purpose of this study

The major research study in this area of middle school social media use was from the Pew Research Center.

There is a need for more studies to validate and add to these findings in different contexts. The current study was

conducted in two middle schools in Southeastern United States. The purpose of this study is to gather middle

school students’ perceptions on the use of social media and their opinion towards cyber safety. The following

questions were answered in this study:

 Which social media tools do middle school students use?

 Which social media sites do middle school students use most?

 Which social media site is a favorite among middle school students?

 What activities do middle school students do on social media sites?

 What technologies do middle school students use to access social media?

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 Do parents of middle school students monitor their use of social media?

 Do middle school students accept friend requests from people they do not know?

 How old were the middle school students when they started their social media account? Is there a gender


 How many times do middle school students check their social media account per day? Is there a gender


 What do middle school students like the most about using social media?

 What bothers middle school students the most about using social media?






Five hundred and ninety-three middle school students (6th to 8th grade) from two schools in the Southeastern

region of the United States completed a survey about their online activity on social media and their concerns

about social media. One school was represented by 238 (40.1%) students and the other school was represented

by 355 (59.9%) students. The age of these students ranged from 12 to 16 with a mean of 13.32 and a standard

deviation of 0.55. The distribution of gender is 50.6% (n = 300) female and 49.4% (n = 293) male.





A survey with 14 items was designed to collect information about the participants’ use of social media and their

opinions towards cyber safety. Other than gender (Item 1) and age (Item 2), the participants were asked to

respond to multiple-choice questions: Which social media tools they used (Item 3); Which social media site they

used the most (Item 4); Which social media site was their favorite (Item 5); What things they did on social media

sites (Item 6); Which technologies they used to access social media (Item 7); Whether or not their parents

monitor their use of social media (Item 8); Whether they accept friends requests from people they do not know

(Item 13). The participants were also asked to respond to three open-ended questions: How old were they when

they started their social media account (Item 9); How many times did they check their social media per day (Item

10); What they like the most about social media (Item 11); and What bothers them the most about social media

(Item 12).



Data analytical procedure

Descriptive statistics were used to report the frequency and percentage of the categories participants chose as

responses to the multiple-choice questions. Independent samples t-tests and Chi-square tests were employed to

see if the responses differed by gender. Responses to open-ended questions were coded using thematic analysis.

Qualitative data were coded into meaningful categories and then organized into themes through comparison,

contrast, and identification (Sangasubana, 2011).




Research question 1: Which social media tools do middle school students use?


The most popular social media tool that middle school students use is Instagram, which was reported by 432

(72.85%) students. The next popular tools were Snapchat and YouTube, each was reported by 385 (64.92%)

students. Table 2 is a list of all tools used by the participants in this study.


Table 2. Social media tools that middle school students use

Instagram Youtube Snapchat Vine Pinterest Facebook Twitter Kik GooglePlus Flickr

n 432 385 385 197 188 185 177 99 94 5

% 72.85 64.92 64.92 33.22 31.70 31.19 29.84 16.69 15.85 0.84



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Research question 2: Which social media site did middle school students use most?


Consistent with the responses to Question 1, Instagram ranked the top of all the social media sites that middle

school students use most. The frequencies of social media sites that were reported by the students were presented

in Table 3.


Table 3. Social media site that middle school students use most

Instagram Youtube Snapchat Facebook Twitter Pinterest Vine GooglePlus

n 158 148 146 45 13 12 9 7

% 26.64 24.96 24.62 7.59 2.19 2.02 1.52 1.18



Research question 3: Which social media site is a favorite among middle school students?


Snapchat was the favorite social media site for the participants in this study (Table 4).


Table 4. Favorite social media site among middle school students

Snapchat Youtube Instagram Facebook Kik Pinterest Twitter Vine GooglePlus

n 149 144 119 34 24 22 21 17 2

% 25.13 24.28 20.07 5.73 4.04 3.71 3.54 2.87 0.34



Research question 4: What activities do middle school students do on social media sites?


The most popular activity is posting pictures. Table 5 shows the frequency of the activities reported by the



Table 5. Activities middle school students do on social media sites

Post pictures Read other’s


Delete videos Comment on

others’ posts

Post videos Delete pictures

n 494 397 333 333 234 209

% 83.31 66.95 56.16 56.16 39.46 35.24


others’ posts


others’ videos

Reshare others’


Post status


Delete my


Delete my


n 150 129 129 110 69 39

% 25.30 21.75 21.75 18.55 11.64 6.58



Research question 5: What technologies do middle school students use to access social media?


The students used smartphone, laptop/Chromebook/Macbook/netbook, tablet/iPad, desktop computer, and

gaming system (X-box). Table 6 is the frequency of the use of these technologies.


Table 6. Technologies middle school students use to access social media

Smartphone Laptop Tablet Desktop X-Box

n 503 489 283 109 40

% 84.82 82.46 47.72 18.38 6.75



Research question 6: Do parents of middle school students monitor their use of social media?


Table 7 shows the frequency counts of students’ report of whether or not their parents monitor their use of social



Table 7. Parents’ monitor of social media

Female Male Total

I am not sure 35 54 89

No 115 120 235

Yes 150 119 269


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Chi-square test showed a statistically significant difference between boys and girls with regard to their parent’s

monitoring. Parents of girls seemed to monitor more than parents of boys, χ2 (2, 593) = 7.62, p = .02.



Research question 7: Do middle school students accept friend requests from people they do not know?

Table 8 is the frequency counts of students’ report of whether or not they accept friends’ requests from people

they do not know.


Table 8. Accept friends’ request from strangers

Female Male Total

No 168 186 354

Yes 132 107 239


Chi-square test failed to show a statistically significant difference between boys and girls with regard to their

acceptance of friends’ request from strangers, χ2 (1, 593) = 3.45, p = .06.



Research question 8: How old were the middle school students when they started their social media

account? Is there a gender difference?


Table 9 shows the frequency distribution of the age when children started using social media.


Table 9. Age middle school students started using social media

Age 9 or younger 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

n 102 121 149 143 57 12 1 8

% 17.20 20.40 25.13 24.11 9.61 2.02 0.17 1.35


Independent samples t-test revealed statistically significant differences in gender, t(591) = 3.64, p < .001. Girls

started using social media at an earlier age (M = 10.81, SD = 1.27) in comparison to boys (M = 11.24, SD =




Research question 9: How many times do middle school students check their social media account per

day? Is there a gender difference?


The reported frequency of daily use of social media ranged from zero to 300 with a mean of 12.74 and a standard

deviation of 48.48. Independent samples t-test revealed girls used social media significantly more (M = 19.69,

SD = 64.30) than boys (M = 9.47, SD = 22.71), t(533) = -2.45, p = .02.



Research question 10: What do middle school students like the most about using social media?


In response to the question “What do you like most about Social Media?” among 593 students four broad

categories evolved during coding: information, communication, entertainment, and general (See Table 10).


In the information category, 127 students mentioned the knowledge social media provides for them to learn

about other people’s/friends’ lives, what they are doing, and what is new with them. Having knowledge about

news around the world (13), the ability to communicate with people around the world (12), the ability to upload

videos (12), the functionality of posting pictures (11), and the ability to express yourself (10) were other reasons

students mentioned for liking social media.


In the communication category, chatting and communicating with friends is another item that was mentioned by

110 students. The other common themes were interacting/communicating with others (53), seeing what people

post (39), sharing/receiving information (36), and staying updated (27) are other popular reasons among students

in favor of using social media. Viewing pictures was mentioned by 21 students, and 17 students said sharing

what they do or like through social media is why they like using it.


In the entertainment category, using social media as entertainment is another most stated item by 77 students.

Sixty-eight students found social media good to stay in touch with their family and friends who do not live close

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by or who they do not see often. Watching videos or movies is among the most stated items that students like

about social media. Sixty students said they like social media because the can watch videos or movies by it.

However, 15 students said they either do not have social media or do not use it. Ten students stated that they do

not like social media.


Table 10. Most liked characteristics of social media by middle school students

Information Communication Entertainment General

Know what


are doing

127 Chat/communicate with


110 Entertaining 77 Don’t have

/don’t use

social media


Share /get info


36 Stay in touch with family

and friends out of states

or far away/ friends do

not go to school with

68 Watch


60 Nothing/don’t

like it


Stay updated 27 Interacting/communicating

with others

53 See posts 39 Everything 8

Share what you

do/ like

17 News around the world 13 See picture 21 Share /see



What celebrities

are doing

3 Communicate with the

whole world

12 Upload videos 12 I don’t know 6

Know what they

think about my

stuff on SM

2 Express yourself 10 Upload/post


11 Being fast 4

See what others

are talking


2 Meet new people 8 Games 8

Share memory 2 Texting 7 Post stuff 8

Stay in touch 5 Passing time 4

Commenting on friend’s


3 Listening to



Show/ see





Research question 11: What bothers middle school students the most about using social media?

In response to what bothers you the most about Social Media, the four broad categories that evolved were

content, people/behavior, safety/privacy and Internet (See Table 11).


In the content category, 64 students mentioned that they disliked disturbing or inappropriate posts on social

media this was followed by dumb comments mentioned by 19 students.


In the people/behavior category, 85 students mentioned that they do not like meeting people who are mean on

social media, followed by bullying and being criticized which was mentioned by 65 students. Twenty-seven

students also mentioned drama and too much feeling and 26 students mentioned immaturity of those using social

media as things that bother about social media.


In the safety/privacy category, 43 students have concerns about privacy and the accessibility of social media

accounts and 24 students mentioned that they were concerned about their social media accounts being hacked.


In the Internet category, 9 students talked about low Internet speed, and startup issues and 8 found waiting time

as bothering related to Internet and social media.


In the final category, 61 think there is nothing in social media that bothers them, 13 mentioned that

advertisements and spams, also lying and tricks bothered them. Eleven students reported that they did not have

social media accounts.





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Table 11. Least liked characteristics of social media by middle school students

Content People behavior Safety/privacy Internet General




64 Mean people 85 Privacy/ track

you down/

having access

43 No


ds Internet







19 Bullying


65 Hacking 24 Waiting/slow 8 Adds/spam 13

Inability to


content you


7 Drama/too much


27 Stalkers 8 Being


up issues

9 Don’t have




Random stuff

pup up

3 People don’t

know how to

use it


26 Stuff stay there

even if you

delete it

7 Uses data 3 Not




Too many


5 See negative

stuff about

others /hatred

21 Your pictures

end up on


6 Everything 5

Fake news 2 Sharing too

much and


about self

19 Unsafe


5 Boring 5

Too much info 2 Fake people 19 No answer 3

Lying/ tricks 13 Apps kick

me out


People you don’t




11 Being


at school


Creepy people 11



and nothing



Arguing 11

Show off 11

Spending too

much time.




Exposing people 8

Gossiping 5

Bad people 4




Private information vs. privacy


The survey results demonstrate a very interesting aspect in middle school students’ usage of social media: from

one side, they try to keep the information that they exchange from adults (especially their parents and teachers),

while on the other side, they have not fully established the awareness and capabilities to protect themselves. If

we examine the popular social media sites that they use, we can find that traditional sites such as Facebook and

Twitter, which are widely used by more mature people (above 25), are less popular with teens. While there has

been a lot of discussion on the rise of Snapchat and Instagram (Boyle, Earle, LaBrie, & Ballou, 2017; Piwek &

Joinson 2016; Vaterlaus, Barnett, Roche, & Young, 2016), we think that two properties lead to their popularity in

the subjects surveyed. First, the parents and teachers of young students are usually more familiar with the social

sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Therefore, it is more difficult for grown-ups to effectively monitor the

communication contents among young students. Actually, there are articles showing that the user interfaces of

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Snapchat are harder to use by people over 25 (Oremus, 2015). The second property is the unique technique in

short information lifetime provided by these social sites. For example, people have to access posts in Snapchat

within a short period of time or the posts will be removed from the user’s device. In this way, less digital

footprint will be left for the users.


In contrast to the motivation of students who try to keep social information from their parents and teachers, they

have not established full awareness and capabilities to protect themselves in the digital world. This is

demonstrated from their willingness to accept friend requests from unknown people: about 40% of surveyed

students will accept such requests. While the results do not consider other factors such as “common background”

or “closeness of mutual friends” (Rashtia, Boshmaf, Jaferian, & Beznosov, 2014), it is obviously too high when

we consider the safety of young students. This number shows that security education for middle school students

deserves more efforts and attention.



Gender distinction


In their early stage of middle school, students will acquire a lot of knowledge and capabilities each year.

Therefore, their objectives and frequently conducted activities on social sites could vary from year to year. At the

same time, boys and girls start to develop different attitudes toward social media (Sentse, Kretschmer & Salmivalli,

2015). For example, our results show that girls are more willing to accept a stranger’s friend request than boys.

They also check social media updates much more frequently than boys. These results justify the observations

that more parents of girls intend to monitor their activities online than those of boys. From this point of view, we

need to pay special attention to girls during security education.



Objectives and frequent activities


The activities that middle school students conduct on social media and their objectives should be aligned. The

activities shown in Table 4 can be classified into two groups. In the first group, a student updates the contents in

her/his social media account. The top operations focus on posting and deletion of videos and pictures. In the

second group, the students provide feedback or comments on other people’s posts. Surprisingly, from Table 4 we

find that the ratio between type 1 and type 2 operations is about 5:4, which means the students conduct more

operations to share their stories than to read about others. These results show the intention of the students to

express themselves instead of caring about others. This study also found that students use social media for a

variety of things. As verified by our study, they keep up with friends, communicate with friends, post pictures,

comment on pictures, like the posts of others, and share other information.



Technologies used to access social media – Smartphones and laptops


Our findings indicate that students access social media on smartphones and laptops more frequently than other

devices. Consistent with findings of Lenhart et al. (2015), the Smartphone is used most frequently as most

students have this device with them at all times. This can actually encourage students to be frequent users of

social media. Students can access social media anywhere at any time with this device. Students also access social

media frequently using laptops. Many schools provide laptops for students’ use both in school and at home. With

Internet access, students can utilize the laptop to access social media. Given the ease of accessibility of these

devices, it is important for both teachers and parents to monitor the use of these devices and the information that

students are accessing on the devices.



Frequency and parents monitoring social media use


With the increase of social media use by middle school students, it is important for parents to monitor the

frequency of students’ use of social media, the information they are accessing, and the friends with whom they

associate. This study found that students used social media more than 10 times per day, specifically the girls used

social media significantly more times than the boys. Students in our study express concerns for cyber bullying.

Frequent monitoring of students’ use of social media can provide parents with information regarding potential

cyber bullying which can assist parents with early interventions before students begin to feel threatened or

vulnerable. Parents can also monitor students’ friends on social media and inquire about names they are not

familiar with. This is extremely important to protect students from potential cyber stalkers and cyber bullying.

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Age and befriending strangers on social media

About 17% of the students have started using social media at age 9 onwards. This study also found that girls

started using social media earlier than boys. Accepting friend requests from strangers on social media can be a

dangerous thing. About 40% of students, both male and female in our study reported that they have accepted

friend requests from strangers. This can be dangerous for the safety of students. Many students accept friend

requests to increase the number of friends that they have to boost their popularity on social media sites. Most do

not understand the consequences that this behavior could have. This underscores the importance of having adults

who continually monitor students’ use of social media and the content of the information they are accessing.




Students are beginning to use social media at a very young age especially the girls creating social media earlier

than boys and also befriending strangers more than boys. It is essential to educate the students, their teachers and

parents on cyber bullying, digital identity, impact of digital footprints, and use of inappropriate social media.

This study was conducted as a needs assessment to measure middle school student use of social media to

develop a digital citizenship curriculum. The results of this study will benefit teachers, technology directors,

parents, and school administrators to identify social media use among the middle school students. The results

may also provide support to guide and inform instructional practices with the curriculum.



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