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USC Study Examines Whether Social Networking Exacerbates Risky Behavior Among Teens

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Hundreds of teens spilled onto the streets of a quiet Holmby Hills neighborhood Saturday night as a small get-together turned into an out-of-control spring break party.

It took just one tweet and Facebook post for word to spread and the soiree spiraled out of control, with the 17-year-old host winding up beaten up and in the hospital.

“What this party is demonstrating is it doesn’t take much to go from one person to seven people, who then have 400 friends of their own,” said Sonya Negriff, an assistant research professor at USC’s School of Social Work.

Negriff just received a $600,000 grant to study how social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, influence teenagers to engage in risky behaviors.

“They’re posting about sex, they’re talking about drinking, they post pictures of themselves drunk,” Negriff said.

She believes sites like Facebook can take peer pressure to a whole new level. Teens may exaggerate the extent of their drinking, drug use or sexual behaviors in online pictures and posts, Negriff said. But, when it comes to parties, they may feel pressure to live up to their profile page.

“Things that you do, or you say that you do online, you have to do those same things in person in order to keep up that persona that you’ve built for yourself online,” Negriff said.

The USC study will also explore whether mistreated and abused teenagers are especially vulnerable to online peer pressure.

But, ultimately, Negriff said it is no surprise that a teen’s closest friends have the strongest influence — online and off. She hopes this study helps that influence become more positive.

Negriff hopes the study reveals, “How these risky behaviors are transmitted through online networks because if you know that maybe you can develop interventions to stop those pathways of risk.”

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