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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.

The Danger of Old Social Media Posts

“In DC, I met an African American seventeen-year-old named Shamika who found that her peers loved to use old status updates and point to them in a new context in order to “start drama.” She found this infuriating because the posts that she wrote a month ear- lier were never intended as fodder for current arguments.”

During my reading of it’s complicated, this quote particularly caught my attention, due to how many real life examples of this occurring in the real world exist. For instance, a few weeks ago ESPN started a new show called Barstool Van Talk which featured two bloggers about that day’s events in sports. However, after the first episode aired, old tweets began to surface of hurtful tweets sent by the owner of the company, Barstool Sports. As a result, ESPN canceled the TV show and even completely amended their internal social media policy. However, this points to a larger issue which is that the distinction between what is socially acceptable and what is not socially acceptable changes on a daily basis. While that is most likely a good thing, as we become more tolerant of others and more respectful of their beliefs, that creates a unique predicament with old social media posts that were once considered “socially acceptable” but now are deemed unacceptable. It’s one thing if someone tweets about something that can be construed as offensive in this time, but how do we handle older posts, often six or seven years old that are instigatory. For me, this causes me to take a closer look at the costs and benefits of posting on social media at all. I rarely tweet at all, and if I do it is simple commentary on sports. I worry that something I say because I am feeling a certain way at one point in time could be used against me in a job interview or something in the future. Perhaps I am too niëve  and I have nothing to be worried about. But maybe I do.

Even yesterday in a group chat with many of my friends, people began to post embarrassing photos from many years ago on Instagram. While none of these photos were offensive or anything like that, it obviously hurt the person whose photo was being  poked fun at. While there is no definitive answer to the age old question of whether social media is “good” or “bad” this certainly adds another wrinkle when thinking about dangers of social media.

Alicia’s Definition

‘I just think it’s different. . . . I think privacy is more just you choosing what you want to keep to yourself’ says seventeen-year-old Alicia.

Now I have heard many scholars and experts try to pin a definition on privacy, but this, by far, is the best one in my opinion. Without trying to explain too much, Alicia captures the take that many people, both adults and teens, have on privacy in the context of social media.

If you choose to share something about yourself on social media, it does not necessarily mean that you do not care about privacy itself. It just might mean that whatever you shared is not worth the effort to keep private.

Because this ‘new’ definition is by a seventeen-year-old girl, many older folks (mainly parents) might not agree with it, but many of them might be surprised to find out that it is not so new. In fact, it is the same form of privacy that they grew up with.

Social media may have been non-existent, but thought process people used back then was the same: Share whatever you do not care about, and keep what you do care about to yourself. It has always been that simple (at least in modern history) and still is.

If that is the case, then maybe parents should think about lightening up and trusting Alicia as well as the rest of us teenagers.

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.

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