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BBC: Third of UK teenagers meet social media ‘friends’ in person

One third of 15 to 18-year-olds in the UK have met a person in real life that they only know from a social media site even though experts have warned that it can be impossible to verify the identity of anyone online.

Read more: New study: Facebook “dead and buried” among UK teens

BBC Newsbeat conducted a poll of 1,105 UK teenagers and found that social media is a huge part of their lives to the extent that just a single per cent has never checked in online for social reasons.

Teenagers aren’t, however, completely abandoning real-life friends and 66 per cent still consider them to be more important than online ones whereas just 28 per cent placed a greater importance on the amount of online friends or followers.

The number of teenagers that are happy to meet up with people they have met online has worried some and Dr Emma Short, a psychologist at the University of Bedfordshire, warned that teenagers must exercise more caution than the current status quo.

"Although we create and maintain our friendships online in a very real way, it is not safe to assume that strangers we meet online are anything other than strangers,” Short admitted. "Even very sophisticated security experts find it very hard to verify the identity of accounts."

Social media’s importance to young people was further illustrated by the fact that 25 per cent admitted they were addicted to social media and 13 per cent think that their online pals know them better than real-life friends do.

51 per cent of respondents feel that it’s important to check a notification as soon as it shows up and it has left 25 per cent of respondents to wish they could give up social media altogether.

Facebook was identified as the most popular among those surveyed with 89 per cent owning an account, followed by Twitter with 62 per cent and Snapchat came out in third with 58 per cent.

Read more: Social networking: The next generation

A separate survey on mobile phone habits released earlier this week showed that 64 per cent of mobile phone owners identify texting, social media and emailing as the main reason to use their smartphone compared to just 21 per cent using it to make calls. That latter number dropped to just 7.8 per cent for 18 to 24-year-olds and goes to show how influential social media continues to be.

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