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Tag: danah boyd

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.

The Complex Interplay Between Privacy and Publicity

“There’s a big difference between being in public and being public.… At first blush, the desire to be in public and have privacy seems like a contradiction…. teens’ engagement with social media highlights the complex interplay between privacy and publicity in the networked world we all live in now.” (boyd 57)

In boyd’s book It’s Complicated, he discusses many theses related to privacy and publicity. To my surprise, “many journalists, parents and technologists seem to believe that a willingness to share in public… is incompatible with a desire for personal privacy” (boyd 56). While it is true that by posting photos on Facebook, teens give up the privacy, of these photos, it does not mean that teens forfeit all their privacy. Emerging social networks lead to teens’ increasing online engagement with not just their friends, but also the public. As a result, we post more and more texts and photos, but we also become more aware of what to post, and with whom we share. We actually care a lot about our privacy, since we usually post things that are insignificant to be publicized, and communicate information of much significance with our close friends via texting, the more private medium.

However, the social norms mentioned by boyd are indeed quite complex on social media. Most people follow these norms in real life; for instance, when two people sit next to each other, one does not stare at the other’s phone screen to see what he or she is texting. Nonetheless, there exist conflicts between social norms and the concept of public social media. We post things, giving everyone the permission to see them, yet on the other hand we may not expect strangers and other unwanted people to view parts of our life. What’s at stake is not whether someone can view but whether one should. The reconciliation of online social norms and the public nature of social media is a challenge in today’s networked world, and should be solved as social media becomes more widely used.

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.

Semantics, Semantics

In It’s Complicated, by danah boyd, the author remarks that “Journalists, parents, and technologists seem to believe that a willingness to share in public spaces—and, most certainly, any act of exhibitionism and publicity—is incompatible with a desire for privacy” (56). This observation comes in the middle of a discussion about social media and the complicated boundaries of online spaces. Is social media participation an automatic abandonment of all privacy? And to what extent should information be regarded as private when in these spaces?

In my opinion, just because people decide to use social media does not mean they are forfeiting their privacy. However, the issue lies mostly in the perception of what “privacy” is, and the disparities between the beliefs of adults and youth. Those who grew up without Facebook or Twitter may think that because the general public is able to access that information whenever they want, that information is not private.

However, except for in the cases of celebrities or wildly popular teenagers, many people do not have that many friends or followers. This means that what they share, they choose to share with the relatively small community of people they have built in that online space, and any unwelcome intrusions from those who feel their information is public is just that: unwanted and resented. In the specific case of boyd’s book, this may be teenagers trying to keep what autonomy they can online. But in the eyes of their parents, because they can see the information, they feel entitled to invade their children’s privacy.

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