Cryptography

The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Teens, Social Media, and Privacy

The other day in class, I asked you to respond to this short, terrible play:

  • Teen: “If my dad monitored my Instagram, that would mean he doesn’t trust me.”
  • Dad: “If you’re not doing anything wrong, what do you have to worry about?”

First, I asked you to role play the teenager. How might you respond to the dad? Here's a capture of what you suggested.

Then, I asked you to role play the parent. Why might a parent want to monitor their teenager's social media use? We broke out the Post-it notes for this.

You did a great job exploring a position that most of you (it seemed) did not initially agree with. Keep this in mind when you're writing argumentative essays in the future. To make a compelling case, you have to take the other side’s perspective seriously, understand it, and respond to it.

Blog Assignment #10

For your next blog assignment, read Singh Chapter 7 and imagine you're writing a research-based argumentative paper on some aspect of the chapter. Draft one possible thesis statement for such a paper and share it in the comments below. Your statement should differ in some way from the ones that precede it. Your contribution to this thread is due by 9 a.m. on Wednesday, November 15th.

(This is something of a warm-up for your final paper assignment in this class, for which you'll put together a research-based argument on some aspect of the security/privacy debate.)

14 Comments

The Danger of Old Social Media Posts

"In DC, I met an African American seventeen-year-old named Shamika who found that her peers loved to use old status updates and point to them in a new context in order to “start drama.” She found this infuriating because the posts that she wrote a month ear- lier were never intended as fodder for current arguments."

During my reading of it's complicated, this quote particularly caught my attention, due to how many real life examples of this occurring in the real world exist. For instance, a few weeks ago ESPN started a new show called Barstool Van Talk which featured two bloggers about that day's events in sports. However, after the first episode aired, old tweets began to surface of hurtful tweets sent by the owner of the company, Barstool Sports. As a result, ESPN canceled the TV show and even completely amended their internal social media policy. However, this points to a larger issue which is that the distinction between what is socially acceptable and what is not socially acceptable changes on a daily basis. While that is most likely a good thing, as we become more tolerant of others and more respectful of their beliefs, that creates a unique predicament with old social media posts that were once considered "socially acceptable" but now are deemed unacceptable. It's one thing if someone tweets about something that can be construed as offensive in this time, but how do we handle older posts, often six or seven years old that are instigatory. For me, this causes me to take a closer look at the costs and benefits of posting on social media at all. I rarely tweet at all, and if I do it is simple commentary on sports. I worry that something I say because I am feeling a certain way at one point in time could be used against me in a job interview or something in the future. Perhaps I am too niëve  and I have nothing to be worried about. But maybe I do.

Even yesterday in a group chat with many of my friends, people began to post embarrassing photos from many years ago on Instagram. While none of these photos were offensive or anything like that, it obviously hurt the person whose photo was being  poked fun at. While there is no definitive answer to the age old question of whether social media is "good" or "bad" this certainly adds another wrinkle when thinking about dangers of social media.

Alicia's Definition

‘I just think it’s different. . . . I think privacy is more just you choosing what you want to keep to yourself’ says seventeen-year-old Alicia.

Now I have heard many scholars and experts try to pin a definition on privacy, but this, by far, is the best one in my opinion. Without trying to explain too much, Alicia captures the take that many people, both adults and teens, have on privacy in the context of social media.

If you choose to share something about yourself on social media, it does not necessarily mean that you do not care about privacy itself. It just might mean that whatever you shared is not worth the effort to keep private.

Because this ‘new’ definition is by a seventeen-year-old girl, many older folks (mainly parents) might not agree with it, but many of them might be surprised to find out that it is not so new. In fact, it is the same form of privacy that they grew up with.

Social media may have been non-existent, but thought process people used back then was the same: Share whatever you do not care about, and keep what you do care about to yourself. It has always been that simple (at least in modern history) and still is.

If that is the case, then maybe parents should think about lightening up and trusting Alicia as well as the rest of us teenagers.

Our Version of Privacy

“Kids today. They have no sense of shame. They have no sense of privacy. They are show-offs, fame whores, pornographic little loons who post their diaries, their phone numbers, their stupid poetry—for  privacy God’s sake, their dirty photos!—online.” - Emily Nussbaum

I strongly disagree with this statement, as it makes a lot of assumptions about today's youth. Maybe the vocal minority do all of the things stated above, but the vast majority of us are very private about our lives. I, for one, have all of my social media behind a private wall, and even then I pay careful attention to what I post. The same goes for all of my friends. I don't know a single person who has posted a 'dirty photo' online, and I've only heard of those types of photos circulating a handful of times. Sure, some of us might post our diaries, but we're doing it behind closed doors, on private accounts, for very specific people to see. While older generations might not consider this private, it's more than enough for our generation. As teenagers, we present a very cultivated public online presence to the world, one which doe does not include rantings or poetry or 'dirty photos'. We post things that make us look good. Everything else (things that won't make us look 'good') is private, in a sense. So, yes, we do have a sense of privacy.

The Debate of Privacy Among Different Generations

"Teens will regularly share things widely on Facebook simply because they see no reason to make the effort to make those pieces of content private" (Boyd 62).

In Chapter 2 in Boyd's novel, I find this quote to be very relatable. While I do not consider myself an active poster on Facebook, this applies to other social media apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. When attempting to explain the concept of these new apps to my mother, who is technologically challenged, she often rebuttals with Boyd's common perspective of parents viewing these posts as irrelevant and even sometimes as a violation of my privacy. While I am not doing anything wrong, it is just the competition of mindsets of different generations. For example, when considering to post a happy birthday post on Facebook or tagging my friends in memes, I could send it by text or I could even copy the link of the meme and send it through more private means. However, it just does not seem necessary to go through the extra steps when it does not matter whether others will see this post. Just because I don't find this particularly necessary to send privately, does not mean I do not care about my privacy rights. In this regard, matters I truly want to keep private I ensure are not posted on any social media. On another note, Boyd references a student that erases her daily usage on Facebook to prevent people from using her previous comments against her later on. I disagree with this because I think while comments can be trivial, one should always consider the implications of their posts and, therefore, if they do not want to accept the consequences for their possible posts, they should not be using social media.

Privacy Through Effort

In It's Complicated, by Danah Boyd, she discusses the complicated situations teens face with social media. A big topic of discussion is privacy: "The default in most interpersonal conversations, even those that take place in public settings, is that interactions are private by default, public through effort...  In other words, when participating in networked publics, many participants embrace a widespread public-by-default, private-through-effort mentality" (Boyd). It is said that a verbal conversation (in person) is a private act, that is only public when made to be. On the other hand, an interaction on the internet is public, an only made private when made to be. This statement catches my attention because it focuses on social norms in reality versus expectations of the internet. In real life, people are expected not to ease drop one another, intrude on conversations, or not interact unless brought into the conversation. On the internet, however, all of these expectations become void, as the internet is a public place. A person has to go through special care to make sure something is private, rather than assume that others are not paying attention. It makes you think, are your conversations private at all? Probably not. Just because it is not considered socially acceptable to listen in on a conversation does not mean people do not do it. Privacy of your affairs should never be expected, but rather always assumed to be public by default. It is in our nature to be curious, and at times that leads us to be intrusive. It is never safe to assume that something is private, especially just because it is socially expected to be. The only fool proof way to achieve privacy is through effort

Parents Can Be Friends

“I do not believe teenagers ‘need’ privacy—not when it comes to the Internet. I track everything my kids do online. I search their bedrooms too. I’m the parent—I’m not their friend." -Christina

In my honest opinion, this statement is over the top. The fact that she goes that far to invade all forms of privacy of her kids has clear implications that she has an extreme lack of distrust between her and her kids. I understand that she is trying to be a "good" parent by protecting her kids from the unknown evil. It is also okay to state an opinion like this, but what I believe Christina is not recognizing is that this blatant treatment of her kids has a real potential to drive her kids to go even further to hide things from her.

As technology evolves, and as her kids get older and smarter, they will eventually find ways to maintain privacy on new platforms and the real world in general. She will have to deal with the fact that she wasted so much time and energy by not trusting her kids to be morally sound enough to make right decisions. This begs the question, why would you go so far, when you could have instilled in your kids the morals to the degree that you wanted them to have? She can do this, and still not be a "dictator" of her kids social media or their lives. It makes sense that she is not a friend of her kids. If my mother treated me like this, I would not want to be her friend either.

 

Mutual Trust is Key

In her book, It’s Complicated, Danah Boyd essentially sums up the problem of privacy on social media in a single sentence: “What’s at stake is not whether someone can listen in but whether one should” (Boyd, 58). Some will claim that since teenagers overshare on social media, they forfeit their privacy because they post everything to the world. But public expression does not necessarily equate to the rejection of privacy. For many teenagers, social media is a platform for self-expression and growth. Should adults, particularly those in authoritative positions such as parents and teachers, invade these spaces, teenagers will not be able to express themselves in the same way.

When I got my first social media account, my mom and I had a deal. I would give her my password and in return she would not use it unless I gave her a reason to. It was all about trust. I trusted my mom not to regularly spy on my Instagram account, and she trusted me not to post anything inappropriate. If I had found her logged into my Instagram on a random day for no apparent reason, I would have been offended. To me, that would signify that she didn’t trust me. Going back to Boyd’s statement, it wouldn’t have been a matter of whether my mom could access my Instagram, but whether she should. Unless she had a solid reason to suspect that my posts were inappropriate, logging on to my Instagram would be a violation of trust.

Parents will argue that they have to monitor their children’s online activity in order to protect them. Our society confirms this argument often, going so far as to imply that parents who don’t monitor their children’s online activity are “bad parents.” However, often children aren’t actually doing anything that should be a cause of concern to parents, and moreover, the parents are effectively disassembling any mutual trust that existed between them and their children.

Worry is a misuse of your imagination

“Teens often grow frustrated with adult assumptions that suggest that they are part of a generation that has eschewed privacy in order to participate in social media.”

I would agree that there definitely is a social pressure to “post nice pictures” on Instagram or Facebook or VSCO because there’s a recurring saying among users that if you didn’t take a picture and post it on Instagram, then were you really there?

But also I agree that the generation of parents fret too much over us being peer pressured into doing something that we don’t want to. That just isn’t always the case, because it’s up to that teenager to decide whether other people will dictate her feelings and the social pressure she puts on herself or just completely disregard the impact of social media and be carefree of it. People nowadays have more respect for exactly that—not caring how many “likes” a picture gets, but posting a picture plainly for the memory or to share what’s going on in their life. Sure, the pressure of being validated by the amount of likes you get will always be present because validation of existence and purpose I would argue is one of the basic needs of human life in the 21st century, but I think we can all agree that we can control ourselves mentally to not let that define our existence. If not, then that says a lot about how easily people can be manipulated today.

I think the reality is that teenagers are briefed so many times on the whole “keep your private information PRIVATE and everything posted online will stay there forever” shebang that there’s already a common sentiment that teenagers actually do want privacy. The stories about teenagers posting an indecent post that received much disdain and dislike that resulted in her/him being socially shunned that people are scared into are probably exaggerated and skewed to sound like it’s worse than it actually is. I’m sure that we’ve all posted something (not even risqué) that we look back on two years later and go “yikes.” But the whole mental game plays with your mind to make it seem like that post attracted a lot more negative attention towards your social standing than it actually did. And that’s the trap of social media and why parents have such a misunderstanding of how teenagers really understand use and sharing of private information on social media.

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