“Rather than finding privacy by controlling access to content, many teens are instead controlling access to meaning.” (Boyd, 76)
Discussing this quote leads to some of the key differences between cryptography and steganography. While teens are openly publishing messages, only those with the requisite information and context required to decipher what the messages are saying will be able to take any meaning from them. It’s as if they’re sending encrypted messages where the encryption method is not based on mathematics or systematic rearrangement and swapping of letters, but is instead based on context and inside jokes. It’s like a “social cipher” with the key being a history of social interactions with the sender, rather than some series of letters or numbers.
Thinking about cryptic social media posts this way can lead to another thought about the difference between cryptography and steganography. In steganography, it is not the contents of a message that is being hidden, but the existence of the message itself. Cryptography, conversely, makes the message unintelligible to a receiver, unless that receiver has the key to decrypt the message, but the message itself is never hidden. In this way, posting something cryptic on social media can actually have characteristics of both. If a teen posts the lyrics to a song, the casual observer would just think that the teen likes that song, but that song may have some special meaning to someone else who takes away a completely different message. The message being delivered here was in plain view and was only correctly interpreted by its intended recipient, which is a characteristic of cryptography. However, the fact that there even was a message other than “I like this song” was unknown to everyone except its recipient, which is a characteristic of steganography.