The Age Of Privacy For Young People Is Far From Over
- January 12th, 2010
- 3 Comments
In my post-baby-sleepless-yet-attempting-to-work daze, I’ve been waiting for a story to move me to post again on Ypulse. I guess I should thank Mark Zuckerberg, and the audaciousness of his statement about “The Age of Privacy” being over for prompting me to spit out some of that 4th cup of coffee. In March I will be flying to Chicago to speak to teenagers at two high schools. The adults who booked this speaking engagement are looking to me to help them navigate issues around digital ethics, including privacy. I imagine that if I asked them whether they were aware that if they opt to share something with friends of friends, potentially hundreds/thousands of people would be able to see it, the answer would be “no.” If I ask them whether they care if all those people can see their photos or other content they post? I have a feeling the answer would be “yes.”
I believe that most young people using social networking sites joined as yet another way to connect with their friends, most of whom they know in real life or had a real life connection to. Yes, there are some young people who are musicians or artists or bloggers who intend for their content to reach as many people [read strangers] as possible. But these are the exceptions not the rule. Most teen blogs and even tweets are insider minutiae meant for their actual friends. Even a couple of years ago when teens first flocked to MySpace, they weren’t aware of how public their profiles were or that parents, teachers or even the local police could access or find them. Once they had that rude awakening, they began using privacy settings. This is very different from young people rejecting privacy. The pain inflicted by cyberbullying when teens post or forward other teen’s photos or videos is also an obvious indicator that young people aren’t ok with everything being made “public.”
In a way, the more Facebook changes its settings and defaults profiles to being more publicly viewable/searchable, the more people like myself and other educators will be on the frontlines, having to help young people better navigate their privacy settings. Ironically, as Meredith pointed out in her response to the latest policy changes I think the way Facebook has gone about all of its changes regarding privacy on the site run counter to what young people really want—to have a choice and better sense of control over their digital information. It’s not that they don’t care about privacy, it’s that they aren’t fully aware that they have the options to really control who sees what—or that now on Facebook, it’s more important than ever to use them.
We’ve written a lot about Facebook fatigue in the past year—and that story resurfaced with the “suicide machine” app., but I wonder whether there will be a backlash. Maybe not in the form of an organized outcry. But in young people responding to the realization of how open their profiles really are how vulnerable their content/data really is, and will just start sharing less or less personal content and relying on other platforms for that. Maybe these profiles will become more like hollow shells they realize are available for public consumption and less the platform/tools for sharing with real life friends and family they once were.
Zuckerberg may have shifted in his thinking about the purpose of Facebook but I don’t believe that teen and college users have. The folks at ReadWrite Web have a great analysis of this story. I think this is a case of someone who has been in Palo Alto too long, consuming only tech media/blogs and who has become blind to the wants and needs of his regular users (vs. power users, i.e. teach media/bloggers/social media consultants), and especially the younger users who were once Facebook’s core user base.