The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Sharing Is Caring – Or Is it?

In It’s Complicated, author danah boyd writes “In a world in which posting updates is common, purposeful, and performative, sharing often allows teens to control a social situation more than simply opting out. It also guarantees that others can’t
define the social situation” (boyd 75). boyd points out that by sharing small snippets of one’s life, they can effectively partition off a section of their life to remain private. I never realized this as an alternative to simply opting out of social media, and this solution proves much more useful than staying off the internet.

boyd shares a situation in which a teen girl posted embarrassing photos of herself on her profile. When questioned, the girl pointed out that it was far safer that the photos be posted on her own terms. Since her friends also possessed embarrassing photos, posting them before they had a chance “undermined her friends’ ability to define the situation differently” (boyd 75). Not only could she avoid being publicly embarrassed, this gave her an extensive amount of privacy. “Her apparent exhibitionism left plenty of room for people to not focus in on the things that were deeply intimate in her life” (boyd 75).

boyd also draws a comparison to the practice of steganography. By hiding messages in plain sight through “countless linguistic and cultural tools,” (boyd 66) teens can avoid surveillance by their parents. This “social steganography” also relates to the previous situation, in regards to the girl posting her photos online. By putting them out there, she draws attention away from her actual personal life, essentially hiding it in plain sight under the veil of her photos.

Overall, boyd notes that “where people share to maintain privacy, they do because they do not want someone to have power over them” (boyd 75). By selectively choosing what to share, people can form pictures of their life that appear true, but actually only define a small portion of their life. This allows people to maintain their privacy in an ever increasingly invasive society. Although I’ve always desired privacy, I never thought of it concretely as maintaining power over myself. boyd has essentially redefined privacy in a meaningful way that truly captures its essence in today’s world.


Old Man Yells at Cloud


Privacy = Trust

1 Comment

  1. Derek

    It sounds like you appreciate the sense of personal agency in boyd’s definition of privacy. I think it’s a more useful definition than the sense of privacy as “hidden from view.” Yes, Facebook’s “privacy settings” can be used to hide things from people, but, more importantly, one can use those settings to control who sees what. That’s agency–assuming you can figure out the settings.

    What can be hard to grasp about this notion of privacy is that it includes the choices to make things viewable by all. Part of agency is being able to say, “I’m going to share this with everyone.”

    I tend to think of FERPA in this way. FERPA is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. It’s the law that says I can’t tell anyone your grade in this course unless (a) you give me permission to do so or (b) there’s an educational need for that person to know. It also means that I can’t require my students to share their work in this course in public, online, with their real names. If I require public blogging (which I do), I have to give students the option to use pseudonyms. That is, the students should have the agency to disclose their affiliation with or work in a course.

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