A third of teens feel more accepted online than in real life, study finds

McAfee's "Teens and the Screen" survey sees a far greater awareness of cyberbullying, but a carefree attitude toward security on the part of teens.

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More themselves online? WWLP-22News/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Do teens tell more of the truth when answering surveys than in real life when talking to adults?

It's possible, I suppose.

So on reading McAfee's latest "Teens and the Screen" survey, let's try to get a feeling for the secret life of those for whom life is beginning to blossom and fears abound like snakes in the grass.

As far as McAfee is concerned, the most significant result of its study of 1,502 preteens and teens in the U.S. interviewed in April is that cyberbullying is out of control.

Eighty-seven percent of the respondents claimed they'd witnessed cyberbullying. This compares to a mere 27 percent in 2013, according to the annual survey released Tuesday.

Some might observe that this is not only extremely worrying, but also a reflection of the adult world. Most days and nights, Twitter, for example, is a repository of bile, invective, and pissy hissing.

In the case of these preteens and teens, however, it was specifically physical appearance that was the basis for 72 percent of the cyberbullying witnessed.

Another statistic that doesn't portend well for the future of humanity is that 50 percent of these kids said that they'd been involved in an argument because of something posted on social media.

Isn't it enough for mean girls and boys to sulk about things said and done at school, without having the additional pressure of things screeched and wailed on Facebook? It seems not. Social media is merely an additional chalkboard for slurs to be flung and backs to be bit.

Fifty-two percent were quite happy not to turn off the GPS locations on their phones as they went through their days. This despite the fact that strangers might discover where they were.

Though 49 percent regretted something they'd posted online, there was one statistic that offered perhaps the saddest and most frightening perspective: a third of the respondents said that they felt more accepted in social media than in real life.

This might be a reflection of teen angst. On the other hand, it might be a glimpse into a time, fast approaching, in which online identities are equally, if not more important -- and even more comfortable -- than real-life ones.

The social-media world allows for different forms of language, nuance, and control. It allows for an entirely new level of personal manipulation.

Mastering it is just as much of an art as social behavior in the physical world.

If a substantial number of teens truly do feel more accepted in social media, perhaps they'll choose to live more of their lives in social media too.

The virtual becomes more real to them. The virtual is where they feel more themselves. Until what's virtual is real. And what's real is virtual.

 

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