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Tag: it’s complicated

Whether we can or we should: an exploration of privacy in the digital age

“What’s at stake is not whether someone can listen in but whether one should.”

This quote from It’s Complicated by Danah Boyd perfectly illustrates the complex role of privacy in an increasingly digital age. As opposed to the past where locked doors and hushed conversations limited parents’ intrusions into their children’s privacy, the rise of public chat rooms, profiles, and pages on social media platforms have allowed increased access to the social media profiles of students. One common argument that parents often make for the stalking of their kids’ social media is the fact that it’s accessible to the public, and therefore they can look at it. But that argument fails to account for whether or not they should look at it. I have the ability to run through commons and make a scene when getting my breakfast; that doesn’t mean I should do it, because doing so causes a public disturbance that violates social etiquette. It’s this sense of social etiquette that drives our sense of morality, and what should prevent parents from excessively looking at their children's' online profiles without cause. This argument should be extended into the information age and evolve into a sort of digital etiquette. Even if online accessibility has increased, boundaries remain very real and should be respected no matter the medium of information exchange. It’s well known that government agencies such as the NSA possess the tools to decipher our encryptions and monitor our messages; but doing so knowingly violates citizens’ rights to privacy without just cause and can turn into a slippery slope where all communication is monitored by an overarching surveillance state. However dystopian that may sounds, its effects are being observed in realtime where increased violation of boundaries often leads to more secrecy and unexpected consequences.

Just because an action can be applied isn’t reason enough for its application. Those who use this justification often have ulterior goals, and it's necessary that parents, authorities, and everyone in between recognize that boundaries exist and respect them. The "can" vs "should" argument will no doubt persist, but I hope this blog post was able to clarify the debate around this topic with respect to privacy. 

Striving for Privacy

In danah boyd's book, It's Complicated, one quote that stood out to me was when she stated, "for teens that I interviewed, privacy isn’t necessarily something that they have; rather it is something they are actively and continuously trying to achieve in spite of structural or social barriers that make it difficult to do so."

This quote resonated with me because throughout the semester, we have discussed and debated the topic of privacy versus security. In every instance, we looked at a specific example, or fictional scenario like in the case of Little Brother. However, I cannot recall a time that privacy has been looked at from the perspective of the innate state it exists; from the second we are born to the second we die, we are surveilled to a certain degree.

For better or worse, parents are there from the very beginning teaching right from wrong. When one reaches schooling age, it becomes the school, then, eventually an employer. Throughout the duration of human life, someone is always there to answer to. Therefore, achieving privacy becomes something that actually must be strived for if there is any hope of gaining it. It is not impossible, but it's complicated.

After coming to this conclusion, I began to imagine the best way that some level of privacy could be achieved, and I could only land on one answer: power. Which is ironic because in each instance those in power are the ones doing the surveillance - it becomes a pyramid. Sure enough, boyd laid out three methods that can be used to achieve this autonomy and find some degree of privacy with the first stating, "people must have a certain degree of agency or power within a social situation." Yet, we must ask ourselves is those in power truly have privacy? Whose family do you know more about... the Kardashians or someone you call a friend? While power may bring one closest to privacy, I do not think there is a way to achieve ultimate privacy.

I do not have an answer for privacy, and I am not arguing that all forms of it are evil. I just find it interesting that through boyd's interviews, it can be seen that privacy has become a construct of society that we strive for but can almost never have.

Expecting Privacy When Posting Publicly

In chapter 2 of It's Complicated, danah boyd discusses the propensity of youths to share information publicly, despite their insistence on maintaining their privacy. Youths post on public forums with the intention of communicating with their friends and peers, but don't like it when their parents or teachers monitor them by creating their own accounts. Recounting an experience with a youth, boyd writes, "Although many adults believe that they have the right to consume any teen content that is functionally accessible, many teens disagree. [Chantelle] continued on to make it clear that she had nothing to hide while also reiterating the feeling that snooping teachers violated her sense of privacy."

On one hand, Chantelle's argument is completely reasonable. She's arguing for the right to privacy, not because she wants to hide information but because she wants communications intended to be private to remain that way. In this case, the "snooping teacher" takes on a similar role to the federal government, where both surveil people who just want private matters to remain private.

On the other hand, all of the cases discussed in the chapter involve posting on public forums, with the operative word being "public". With all the private mediums that youths could choose from, they chose to post publicly, which raises the question of whether people deserve privacy when posting publicly. I'm not sure what the options were in 2014 when boyd published It's Complicated, but now there are plenty of apps and messaging services to choose from that don't allow unwanted access. By choosing to post publicly, one essentially forfeits the expectation of privacy.

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.

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

Becoming public to become private

“Much to her frustration, she finds that sharing at least a little bit affords her more privacy than sharing nothing at all.” (p. 74) This statement by Taylor, in Boyd’s book It’s Complicated is a true reflection of the world we live in. We live in the 21st century and due to ever-advancing technology, it has become easier and easier to exchange information. This information age that we live has meant that sharing information has become the norm and any deviation from this norm sticks out like a sore thumb -- or as Dr. Bruff would call it, a lead-lined coffin. So, when anyone, like Taylor, chooses not to share they immediately draw attention – the exact opposite of the what they were trying to achieve in the first place.

Boyd says that the thought process of Taylor as well as many other teens of “focusing on what to keep private rather than what to publicize” (p.77) is a difficult concept for adults to grasp. Boyd seems there are only two groups of people in this battle of privacy, parents and teens. The actual groups that Boyd should discuss are those that have been able to adapt to the information age and those who haven’t. While there is a correlation between being an adult and not understanding the above statement, there are many adults who do understand the nuances of privacy today, as we can see from the multitude of adult vloggers that publicize their lives. The reason that Boyd may think that the two distinct groups are teens and adults is because most teens have not known a world other than the information age and so they have been forced into adapting how they keep their lives private. It can also be argued that Boyd does, in fact, know that there are teens who don’t understand privacy in the 21st century as well as adults who do understand it but she just chooses not to in order to make her book more controversial or in order to widen the rift between parents and teens. Whatever the case may be, there is one thing to remember. There are always two groups, those who can adapt to the ever-changing world around them and those who do not, and consequently are left scratching their heads, wondering why things aren’t as good as they were “back in their day” and why the “new generation is the worst generation ever”.

Reference:

Boyd, D. (2015). It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. New Haven: Yale University Press.

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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