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Surveillance and Freedom of Speech: Should the U.S succumb to an 1984 type of Society?

Put simply, surveillance is a systematic way of searching for a flaw in a pool of data and when a camera is pointed at somebody, they knowingly change the ways that they act and even think while they are being watched. The idea that you are being watched is suggestive that you are already guilty of something; if you were left alone in a room with a chair, table, and a mirror on the wall, you would become suspicious that your actions within the room are being watched and will be under scrutiny. Surveillance actually creates a great deal of paranoia and this has many deep implications.

Since we are granting the government a “wide latitude of surveillance” we can give them the power to access our social media. This especially will impact activist groups that heavily rely on the power of mass communication that social media platforms have. If the government had a greater capacity to monitor what activist groups plan or say, wouldn’t the groups begin to feel pressure from the presence of an authority figure watching over them and suppress some of their own communication. Surveillance now becomes an issue of free speech rather than a tool to help us improve our own society. If every embodiment of a thought such as a text, tweet, email or status update is looked upon by an institution that installs fear in us at time, isn’t our free speech inhibited?

A good comparison to make in this situation is the Chinese Social credit system. It is first important to note that the Chinese government has different expectations then the United States government, their tradition is more focused on promoting good social behavior. However, we should believe that if a similar system for monitoring the public is used, the government will have its own agenda as well. We cannot ensure that politics will eventually play a role in how we are being watched. How will surveillance affect conversations of complicated topics such as gun control or planned parenthood? Our country has people with opinions across a wide spectrum of values, surveillance would aid in suppressing people with specific views and bring social reform to a halt. With a “wide latitude of surveillance”, this reality isn’t very distant, and once we allow the government anymore access to our information, we will never be able to undo that large digital leap of faith.

Social Media provides more gaps between parents and teens

"Social media has introduced a new dimension to the well-worn fights over private space and personal expression."

Have you ever hide part of your school life as secrets from your parents through social media? Shared with your friends that you played a trick with your teacher in high school but hide it from your parents? Well, after the birth of social media, teens gradually share less with their parents. Even stay at home, we would not talk about our real life with our parents but chat with our friends through the Internet.

This phenomenon is related to the purpose of social media. As it showed up in our lives, social media become a perfect tool to improve the relationship between friends. People can not only chat in real life face to face but also chat online at any point. Meanwhile, social media also aggravate the tense relationship between parents and teens. Before the era of social media, parents worry about what teens had done outside and tried to talk with them when they back home. Teens enjoyed their time outside and had to face their parents' question and chatter. However, through the social media, teens could bring their social life and resistance to parents back home. They could lock themselves in their bedrooms and still chat or post with their phones and laptops. It's much harder for parents to try to learn about their children's social lives.

Definitely, teens are happy with this change. They have more rooms and freedom now. They could hide their secrets from their parents by simply finishing a privacy setting. At the same time, the gaps between teens and parents become larger and larger. Parents could no longer know what teens want to hide and start to worry more. With almost a blank impression about what their children have posted on Facebook or Instagram, as well as what their children have said to their friends, parents will imagine possible bad manners that kids may be accustomed to. Those imaginations then become new gaps that teens won't talk to their parents about but parents keeping worrying.

 

Communicating in Plain Sight

One passage from It's Complicated by danah boyd that caught my attention was, "Many teens are happy to publicly perform their social dramas for their classmates and acquaintances, provided that only those in the know will actually understand what’s really going on and those who shouldn’t be involved are socially isolated from knowing what’s unfolding. These teens know that adults might be present, but they also feel that, if asked, they could create a convincing alternate interpretation of what was being discussed."

This passage illustrates the concept of social steganography, a strategy that teens often use to privately communicate.  What I find interesting is that I have always been aware of the existence of this technique, even used it myself, but I had never realized that it was a form of steganography.  Now, it seems quite obvious.  When someone posts an "inside joke" or uses vague or special language that means something to a particular group but appears meaningless to everyone else, they are basically hiding a message in plain sight.  Anyone with access to their online profile could see what they are putting out there, but only a specific target audience would understand what they are really communicating.  Clearly, steganography has a much larger presence in everyday life than I previously thought.

As boyd explains, many adults often criticize teens for posting information publicly while also caring so much about their privacy.  They see these things as acting against each other, but what they don't realize is that teens are very careful in deciding what they expose to the public.  By using strategies such as social steganography, it is possible to have an easily accessible online presence while simultaneously maintaining control over who you share sensitive information with.

Privacy of the Teens in Social Media

Teens are increasingly sharing personal information on social media sites, a trend that is likely driven by the evolution of the platforms teens use as well as changing norms around sharing.

While there is now increasing awareness of and hence established defense protocols to protect against overt dangers of social media such as bullying and trolling, the silent perils of social media for youngsters remain to be tackled. These include hacking by inimical elements and phishing. Setting parent controls parental control on computers and websites is very effective for younger children, but it gets dicey with teens because such controls can be perceived as stifling for the youngster.

The severe inconsistency in the perception of privacy awareness among teens is not surprising – the concept of “privacy-paradox” has been the building block of the panoptic web of social media that provides “constant view of individuals through mechanisms that influence behavior simply because of the possibility of being observed” It is believed that teens worry more about social privacy than the privacy risks posed by third parties, in contrast to the reverse penchant for an adult.

I like the sentence in the material is that: "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."

All Eyes on Us

"Although teens grapple with managing their identity and navigating
youth-centric communities while simultaneously maintaining
spaces for intimacy, they do so under the spotlight of a media ecosystem
designed to publicize every teen fad, moral panic, and new hyped
technology"

Who dictates how long mistakes last? Do they linger for a few embarrassing weeks or days until gradually fading from the memories and interest of our stimulation seeking brains? Or are they held up for the world to see, for as long as the internet exists? Our parents and generations before did not necessarily have to worry about the latter happening, because their social lives did not revolve around sharing details, pictures, or videos of themselves for friends and the public alike to see. You did something regrettable, embarrassed yourself and eventually it would most likely not be brought up again. The reality of the modern teen or young adult is much different.

I am not arguing that people should not be held accountable for mistakes, rather I present the idea that there is a looming cloud that shrouds my generation. Someone is always watching, recording, or listening. A certain pressure descends upon teenagers in social situations. That does not excuse us from making dumb decisions but rather increases the likelihood that those mistakes will prevent opportunities in the future.

Say someone takes a video or a picture that you do not want spread, but that picture is instead posted to a certain social media site. Once it is shared, there not much anyone can do to completely erase that picture. You are now a permanent fixture on someone's page. This is exactly the point where teens try to make the point that they do value privacy and security. Just because teens share information about themselves on the internet, does not mean they have requested a book with everything they've every said or done written about them.

So, in a society as interconnected as ours is today, how do we deal with the proposition of privacy? Delete all of our social media accounts? Possibly, but extremely unlikely for the majority. I am not quite so sure myself wether there is a solution to this issue. Maybe these are just new times, a new reality where everyone's private life, becomes that bit more public.

In Public but Unpublic

In It's Complicated, boyd wrote: "there's  a big difference between being in public and being public... mere participation in social media can blur these two dynamics."

I especially like the author's analogy between a subway conversation and a social media post online. While both contents are in public, neither is being public. A subway conversation, while audible to those around, is meant to be private. Likewise, while a social media post is visible to all, it's meant to be private as well, or at least exclusively shared between only a few. While teenagers seem to understand and practice the concept almost unintentionally, adults struggle to grasp the ideology behind their actions.

Once social media emerged, it has become unstoppable. Teenagers, a generation facing the rise of such communication, face particular challenges in terms of personal privacy and social interactions. Humans share the need to be in public, be a part of a social group or a community. It's hard to maintain offline when interactions are occurring online. And the mere concept of social media - the ideology of a more open and interactive space - is blurring the line between what's accessible and what's private.

In traditional senses, inaccessibility equals privacy. If a diary is locked, parents would know its content is intended to be kept private. However, the same kind of physical lock has disappeared in the age of social media. Teenagers are relying on social conventions to lock their online presence, while parents are failing to follow such invisible rules.

The public-by-default mindset of social media makes it harder for teenagers to navigate their privacy. Because the social environment is so different online, it's easy to think that it has completely different rules when it comes to maintaining privacy. For instance, while almost no one would choose to broadcast a conversation in public, many would post such conversations online. Personally, I believe it might be due in part to the illusion-like nature of social media. While we know the content we post online are visible to virtually everyone, it doesn't feel like we have a full house of audience. The concept of everyone is different in social media from its traditional meaning.

The expression of privacy has changed; yet its core meaning and challenges haven't changed.

Social Media as Proof Surveillance Affects Behaviour

“In his book Discipline and Punish, philosopher Michel Foucault describes how surveillance operates as a mechanism of control. When inmates believe they are being watched, they conform to what they believe to be the norms of the prison and the expectations of their jailors. Surveillance is a mechanism by which powerful entities assert their power over less powerful individuals.”

This quote well summarizes the effects of surveillance we have studied and discussed in class. People act differently when they are surveilled and it is for that reason people need privacy and privacy is a human right. This idea is illustrated in the podcast about Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. The Panopticon is circular jail building with a watchman in the center who cannot watch all prisoners at once so the inmates are not able to tell when they are being watched. Therefore, the prisoners behave as though they are being watched. I think this effect of surveillance affects teens’ use of social media today. When using social media sites, such as Facebook, teens accept that they can be surveilled and thus they act accordingly. For example, our parents advise us not to post pictures on social media that we would not want our potential employers to see.

The result of a difference in behavior when being surveilled means online activity does not always reflect our genuine selves to the degree human interaction can. Knowing that they are being surveilled, many teens tend to post the best parts of their lives. When looking at a teen’s Instagram profile, it tends to look like a carefully curated highlight reel. This is more evidence that we act differently with surveillance. It is ironic that social media is a means to connect people but at the same time, it distances people because we do not portray our most genuine selves as we do with human interaction.

Teens, like adults, Make Their Own Choices Reguarding Privacy

In the section, Privacy as Process, boyd identifies a new argument that,  "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." She introduces the idea of the choice that teens have regarding privacy and how to overcome issues regarding how much one should or should not share. A teen has the choice to share some, but not all, of their information on social media to avoid further invasions of their privacy in real life. This logic can be extended to all the ways that teens choose to incorporate social media in their lives. I agree with the view that monitoring of teens' use of social media should be determined by the teens' choice. Many parents and teachers often forget that teens are people as well and have greater abilities than they are given credit. With that I understand the choices that some teens make to encrypt or hide some of their messages on twitter; these teens are enacting their fundamental rights to decide how to communicate their ideas, conversations, and feelings. Any unwanted surveillance on this communication Is an attack on the trust adults have on these young adults and the decisions that they make.

Why Are Adults so Bad at Social Media?

"Controlling a social situation in an effort to achieve privacy is neither easy nor obvious. Doing so requires power, knowledge, and skills... Second, people must have a reasonable understanding of the social situation and context in which they are operating."

In this part of the chapter, boyd discusses how privacy can be achieved by taking control of a situation. She says that the three things that are needed are power, knowledge, and skills, and then she describes how teens aren't great at this because it isn't easy. Even though her reasoning makes sense, I still think that saying teens "struggle with this" is incorrect. Not only that, but I also think this applies not only to privacy, but social media usage in general. The specific part of this that caught my attention was that she said that people need an understanding of the social situation and context. If anything, I''m pretty sure that teens are extremely knowledgable when it comes to the context of social media. Teens are usually the first people to try all the new types of social media, so they are usually the ones who set up the context. And this makes sense; since we have grown up in a technological society, we are the best audience for all this new stuff. Social media is literally made for teens, so we are generally good at navigating through all the intricacies, including achieving privacy. I think it's hard to completely agree with boyd on a lot of things that she says, because she is still one of the adults. She's trying to see privacy from the point of view of a teen, but just the fact that the has to do research and conduct interviews shows the disconnect. I understand that she was doing it for the book, but I'm pretty sure that a lot of the things the teens talked about were unfamiliar to her, but common knowledge for the average social media usage. I think this is why adults are so bad at using social media, and why parents are always invading privacy. They don't understand normal social media cues, similar to regular social cues like boyd described (not staring, not eavesdropping). Honestly, I don't think this will change anytime soon either, because teens are just so much different than adults. The best that can happen is for adults to just try and learn how to be normal.

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.

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