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NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Users of Facebook and other social networks are finally starting to get the message that the stuff they post on the internet can come back to haunt them.

A study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project looks at how users of social networks manage their reputations on social networks by restricting who can view their profiles. And they’re doing so by culling “friends” more than ever. The survey of more than 2,000 adults in the spring found that 63% of social network users have deleted a friend at some point, up from 56% who said the same in a similar survey conducted in 2009.

There are several reasons you might delete an online friend – perhaps you became friends on Facebook only to discover later that they consistently post inane updates, or maybe there’s been a falling out of some kind in the real world that has changed the relationship.

But beyond the actual personal relationship, the survey results indicate that privacy and reputation management may be the main issue at stake. Users are increasingly deleting comments and untagging photos of themselves on social networks, which suggests people are getting more serious about how they present themselves to the world. And they’re making use of Facebook privacy settings, with 58% restricting their profiles to friends.

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Privacy settings have long been a hot topic in the social networking world as Facebook users increasingly seek out ways to better manage what friends and strangers can find out about them. And while about half of survey respondents said they had difficulty managing their privacy settings, it should be noted that the survey was conducted a few months before Facebook rolled out an easier and more intuitive privacy management system.

While the new privacy regime was widely regarded at the time as a response to competition from Google+, it’s also likely Facebook had already learned the lesson of this study: When you give people the power to share information, they’re going to demand an easy way to control who they are sharing it with.

Matt Brownell is a staff reporter for MainStreet. You can reach him by email at, or follow him on Twitter @Brownellorama.