In the most recent Pew Internet survey, 69% of teens reported that their peers were mostly kind on social networking sites. Of adults, 85% said users on SNS were mostly kind.
In that I consider to be a heartening bit of research, Pew has discoverd that both adults and teens believe that the interactions on social networking sites are by and large kind, with just 20% of teens and 5% of adults reporting that they found SNS interactions to be unkind or mean.
What is interesting is the disparity between the teen results versus the adult results.
I took the difference as indicative of insight reflecting the maturity level of the participant. To quote Anaïs Nin:
We do not see others as they are; we see them as we are.
Warning: psychobabble alert
Teens are still growing and developing their own self-identity. They are often insecure and trying to find the balance between self-actualization and testing boundaries within their developing lives. When teens report a lack of kindness, I take that as a reflection of their own insecurities and fears as they develop their sense of self and other.
With the exception of a few attention-seeking trolls here and there, adults by and large are civil on social networking sites. They are more likely to know who they are, and absent of a tremendous amount of provocation, will react publicly in a kind and civil manner. This is good news to allay the fears of brands who might face criticism on SNS: take heart; most people will be nice to you. And if they criticize, they'll do it in a civil manner 85% of the time.
Responding to mean behavior
And in even better news, teens report that they do the wise thing and 95% of the time ignore the mean behavior. As one who has seen flame wars to end all flame wars, I long ago became convinced that nothing productive ever comes from responding to an online troll, and it's great to see teens modeling this behavior. But the community isn't helpless in the face of mean attacks: 84% of teens have seen people defend the person being harassed, with 27% seeing this frequently. While responding directly isn't always the best option, helping out your fellow community members often is.