Living in an online stream: new study on young people’s lives on social networks

A new study on online behaviour and the challenges faced by Austrian children and youth on social networks shows a competent use and a conscious online presence.

Date 2021-07-13 Author Austrian Safer Internet Centre Section , awareness, news, research, youth Topic cyberbullying, data privacy, hate speech, media literacy/education, online reputation Audience media specialist, organisations and industry, parents and carers, research, policy and decision makers, teachers, educators and professionals

In Austria, young people start to use social networks at between 8 and 13 years of age. They are not the first generation to use social networks, but they do it differently compared to previous generations. Formerly, children and young people considered it to be important to show their life online by posting pictures and sharing stories. This has now changed.

Today, social media is primarily used to keep in contact with friends, to search for information, and to be entertained. Posting content has become less important – only about a third of young people post images of themselves online. And, if they do, they use messaging apps with personal accounts, or in other private online spaces. Additionally, stories and user-generated content which automatically disappears after 24 hours has become more relevant than in the past.

Results of the study on online behaviour and challenges of Austrian young people.


Young people think their “right to be forgotten” is not being implemented

Nearly half of children and youth in Austria have at least one profile in a social network that they are not able to access anymore. The most common reasons for this might be that the linked email address is not available anymore, or that the two-factor authentication is hindering the login process since the associated device is lost or broken.

Social networks today (such as Facebook) have longer lifespans than platforms of the past (such as Netlog). Thus, inaccessible accounts can potentially be troublesome. For example, reported cases show that long-forgotten accounts often contain images considered as embarrassing or inconvenient. In this context, young people claim that their right to be forgotten is not being implemented. Social network providers need to develop ways to ensure that this right is granted, for example by automatically deleting inactive accounts after giving out warnings.

Online images – always edited?

In the study, 79 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “All young people present themselves better on social media than they do in reality”. Indeed, 62 per cent think that all pictures found online are edited. Still, when asked whether they edit images themselves, only 27 per cent admitted doing so. Young people face a dilemma: online images must look both professional and effortless at the same time else they will otherwise be considered as “cringe” (embarrassing or uncomfortable). This might also explain why children and young people are posting fewer pictures of themselves nowadays. It could also relate to their fear of unwanted negative responses to shared content online, such as hate speech, mobbing or cyberbullying.

Most young people in Austria claim to manage their privacy settings on social networks, and only a small minority admits to having never done so. Children and youth do seem to care about their online presence, and they think before they post. A new generation of users is growing up.

About the survey

The survey “Living in an online stream: social networks and self-presentation” was carried out by the Institute for Youth Culture on behalf of the Austrian Safer Internet Centre and ISPA – Internet Service Providers Austria. The respondents (n=400) were 11 to 17 years old – the study is representative for this age group in Austria. In addition to the study, the results were contextualised within three focus groups and experiences from workshops organised by the Austrian Safer Internet Centre.

Find out more about the work of the Austrian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services, or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.


The Austrian Safer Internet Centre @saferinternetat has conducted a study on online behaviour and the challenges faced by Austrian children and youth on social networks. It shows a competent use and a conscious online presence, as well as a reflection on the “right to be forgotten” online.

You can read more about it on the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal at 


@saferinternetat has conducted a study on online behaviour and the challenges faced by Austrian children and youth on social networks. It shows a competent use and a conscious online presence.

You can learn more at

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