danah boyd – Privacy in Networked Publics

I was one of a fortunate few who attended a stimulating and thought-provoking session by renowned social media researcher Dr danah boyd yesterday at RMIT. danah has done an enormous amount of research into how young adults view social media and she has conducted countless interviews with teenagers. The topic was how young adults view privacy in a world where everything seems to be public.

danah began by speaking about mythbusting privacy. How young people understand privacy is different to how we understood it when we were young as the world is totally different now. For teenagers, it’s essential to be part of the social world. In our day it was hanging out at the mall. Today, the equivalent is being on Facebook.

There is an expectation from all young adult to be participating in social media. If they are not, there must be a good reason not to be on it. They think, it’s free, so why not be on it?

Young adults are doing the things online we did offline when we were teenagers; making friends, hanging out. Awareness and presence drives participation. Teenagers are engaging in social grooming, learning social norms and how to conduct relationships and how friendships get formed in public places. Young peoples right to roam has been radically decreased in three generations. Constrained now locally. Parents want them within their sight. Social media use is a byproduct of this.

Young adults often see Facebook as a scrapbook of social life; a way of bringing bedroom culture (posters, media, etc) to an audience.

We are seeing an intersection of people, technology and practice, where people come together, restructured by technologies. Online expressions are automatically recorded and archived. It’s different to what were used to when we were teenagers.

The fact that online materials can be easily duplicated and not knowing whether something is original or a duplicate changes dynamics.

Searchability of teenagers is now great; visibility of content is great. Teenagers are now searchable by people who hold power over them (admissions officers, bosses, etc.)

Scalability. Even though huge audiences are out there, there are blogs that have 0 readers. Things that make them look like fools are the things that have scale. But not all audiences are visible. Not necessarily co-present. How do we navigate audiences when we don’t know who they are or when they are our audience? They might read a blog post written years ago.

Collapsed contexts: lack of boundaries makes it difficult to maintain distinct social contexts. Blurred. Young people are struggling to make sense of broader contexts as well. Peer norms and adult norms and very different.

Private and public are difficult to maintain as distinct. Sense if agency, make a decision and assert that decision. How do we control this?

There is a huge shift around information and who can access this information. Defaults have changed. We need to make a decision about what to share. Many teenagers are now sharing online public by default, private through effort. They find it easier to share everything than decide what to share. They feel other people can filter rather than them choosing what to share. They often upload all of their photos then select one or two to delete.

Young adults want to participate in a public choice of privacy in a public environment. But there is confusion about what constitutes privacy. Respect, personal, exhibitionists. Sharing is seen as a way of closeness, so sharing passwords is quite normal. Up to 50% older teens share passwords. This was generated by adults, parents wanting their children’s passwords. So sharing passwords is signalling trust to special friends and boyfriends/girlfriends. Cultural forces around trust and safety.

Who belongs and who doesn’t? Who should read and comment on a post? Some teenagers think just because a post is publicly accessible, doesn’t mean it’s for you. This means you parents and teachers (and other relatives).

Privacy strategies. How do you know if a Facebook status is meant to be addressed to you? Young adults say it’s a certain way you talk. One young adult created lists for suitable audiences as his interests were varied and he would be teased by some friends for some interests. So he separated those by using lists.

One young adult found that things she forgot about that occurred in the past were brought up. So she deleted posts and comments daily, after friends had time to read them. One girl deactivated her account daily so adults couldn’t see her updates.

Teenagers also feel that parents shouldn’t comment on Facebook posts as it scares everyone else away. So, often teenagers work around by hiding in plain sight. One example was a girl was feeling depressed, but as her mother was her Facebook friend, she couldn’t say she felt bad online or her mother would annoy her. So she posted the song lyrics from Always look on the bright side of life. The encoded message achieved privacy in a public environment. Her mother thought she was cheerful. Anyone who’d seen the Monty Python film knew she was upset.

Although danah has access to social media sites, she often doesn’t know what young adults are talking about due to the codes they use.

Dramatic actions online include teasing right through to harassment. We see bullying, kids see drama.

Shifts in visibility. Increased ability to see into lives of YA. They are seeing and being seen. You’re invisible unless you share and participate. This prompts them to share and be present. Young adults are now learning to expect surveillance. Parents, teachers, adults, governments are looking over their shoulder. Value of privacy still very important to YA but it’s achieved differently.

Young adults are now hacking the “attention economy”. They often think “what can I do to get attention?” Trolling is a part of this. They often feel that anybody who becomes famous becomes a target because they have visibility and the young adult may not. This has been normalised through reality tv.

Those who don’t want to or don’t have access to social media is about 7% of teenagers in USA. Religion is a good explanation for this. However, some young adults make a conscious decision to opt out. Opting out of Facebook has a few reasons. Parents is one reason. Some kids feel they don’t need to, they are already popular enough. Some feel so marginalised already, they don’t want to be marginalised online as well. Some feel they need a clean slate for a sports scholarship. Some people have an emotional exhaustion to Facebook updates; it feels like a job rather than fun.

Google+ Circles can be good not to overflow everybody or blow up your friends’ feeds.

Twitter is used in different ways. To participate with celebs. Participating in trending topics is fun. Strong third is protected accounts. Share updates with small group of trusted people. Quite clear who is following you.

 Young people feel they are oppressed as a group. There is no safe environment for queer youth online, they are not getting the support the way they were a decade ago. There have been suicides in the US after the “It gets better” campaign. But there was no structural support to the campaign.

The Internet magnifies everything. We see things that we didn’t see before. How do we make sense of it? Teenagers need to understand the world is messy. Things out there aren’t all good and we can’t protect them from it all.

Bullying statistics haven’t changed with rise of Internet. Bullying is worse at school. Adults panic because we can see kids being harmed. If kids don’t come home with a black eye, we don’t know what happened. Easier to blame technology.

 There is pressure for kids to only relate to people they know. Adults need to support shared interests. Marginalised youth want to share personal stuff. MMORPG seems to be a good place to share. Harder to find online communities.

Real names debate. We act differently at work, home, etc. so we could use different names for different aspects of our lives.

Note: danah changes quotes from YAs so they can’t be googled. No unintended visibility. Never connects journalists with young adults.

There are interest driven communities and friendship driven communities. But fear mongering in the media has made it impossible for young adults to join interest driven communities as there are ‘strangers’ on these sites.

Parenting is an ongoing process. We should be working on all of this long before they go on the internet. Trust and communication are the keys. Parents need to ask questions, such as “Why did you do this?”  “Did you achieve what you wanted to achieve?”

How to we change the fear culture spread by the media? Statistics don’t combat fear. One story can make things spiral out of control. How do we challenge moral panic? We need media literacy.

Health and wellness is at the centre of all this. We need to teach critical thinking rather than dos and donts. We need to teach the possibilities about how to engage well.

danah also feels that educators should have a second Facebook account (without any private content) so that students can connect with their teachers if they have problems or issues. Accept their friend requests, but don’t friend them. Passwords can be shared with Principals for transparency. This would especially be important over long summer holidays when teachers are not available face to face.

A podcast of the session will be available shortly. For an in-depth blog post on the session, see Jenny Luca’s How do you deal with a world that is messy? danah boyd at RMIT.

Podcast of danah’s presentation available here.

Why I say no to Facebook

It seemed to me that there are very few people in my PLN who don’t use Facebook. Until today when I tweeted about it and had quite a few replies that agreed with me. Jenny Luca was one of them as she is quite one of the most wonderful teacher librarians on the face of the earth, her agreement with me really resonated.

I’ve never been a big fan of handing over ownership of my photos, writings and more to a social media behemoth for not much in return. Okay, I’m being facetious, but the truth remains that the T & C of Facebook means that practically anything you upload can be used and reused by one Mr Mark Zuckerberg:

For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.

I’m also not a fan of ‘opt out’. I’d much rather opt in to things like photo tagging than have Facebook decide for me that this is something I want to be a part of. Although on Facebook’s T & Cs page, it says:

Your privacy is very important to us

I don’t believe that it is. Introducing facial recognition technology to photos without telling people about it and the implications is evidence that privacy is not important. As Naked Security said about photo tagging on 7 June:

Well, now might be a good time to check your Facebook privacy settings as many Facebook users are reporting that the site has enabled the option in the last few days without giving users any notice.

I also cannot help but be swayed by technologist and all-round brain-box Mark Pesce‘s view of Facebook in Why I Quit Facebook and You Should Too and Facebook and the Death of Privacy. Here is a deep thinking man who embraces social media and technologies, eschewing Facebook. It’s got to influence your thinking, doesn’t it?

Any site that pulls the rug out from under your feet by changing privacy settings without your knowledge has got to be viewed with suspicion.

Riding a motorbike through a supermarket is not good for your digital footprint

You’d think the heading of this post would be self-explanatory, wouldn’t you? That “digital natives”, who are supposed to know everything about technology would know better? Wrong.

Last night a young adult did exactly what the title says, hoping to become a YouTube sensation. (You can read a media report here.)

But what about the damage done to his digital footprint? News outlets named the youth and I can’t imagine too many prospective employers, etc. being too impressed with such a stunt. His public boasting via Facebook was another faux pas.

As we know, even when websites, videos, comments, blog posts and more are deleted, they can still be accessed.

We educators obviously have a lot more work to do with our students in terms of digital citizenship and positive digital footprints. If we think that because we might block or ban these tools at school, we can forget about them, then today’s news proves us wrong.

Many of our students know how to use these tools, but not the wide ranging implications that are part and parcel of social media.

Intellectual property: a word of warning

Almost two years ago I went to a DEECD inservice, where intellectual property was discussed. A presenter outlined that if we developed work at school, using school time and school resources (such as a computer) then the intellectual property belonged to the school. Initially, for about two seconds, I was shocked. But it all made sense really quickly, that’s why we get paid, to essentially sell our souls.

People who work for, say, Lego or Greenseas Tuna and develop a new line of toys or flavoured tuna don’t actually expect to be paid over and above the work they’re paid to do. They’ve been employed to develop these new lines and by doing so, they are fulfilling their role at work.

So if you work in your own time and use school resources, some of the work belongs to you and some to the school. How on earth would you ever work out who owns what in that instance? I guess you’d have to hope that there is never an issue arising with such work.

Taking the DEECD advice into account, it then follows that if you tweet, Facebook or develop blogs, wikis, etc. in work time using work resources, this actually belongs to your workplace. If you leave your workplace for another sector, you may actually be required to give up some or all of the examples above. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Almost panic, in fact.

What of people who kindly share their work, developed at school, but don’t attribute it to their workplace but just to themselves? What of people who sell such work on Scribd?

So what about if you do work in your own time, with your own resources, but make a wiki, for example, with your school name and/or logo on it? Expect that you might need to fight for it. I know of a friend who did all her work in her own time, using her own resources and no links whatsoever to her workplace and her school STILL tried to take it away from her when she moved on.

Some of these scenarios are nightmarish, so it could be useful to ensure that they are covered in the school or workplace social media policy. As the pace of technology outstrips policy and legislation, it may pay you and your workplace to be ahead of the game to ensure no nasty surprises down the track.

Photo scandal provides teachable moment

Yesterday’s Australian Football League nude photo scandal provides teachers with a “teachable moment” for their students.

We know that once a photo is taken, it can only take seconds for it to be uploaded and published to the internet and for the world to see. We must teach our students that:

  • If you are not happy to pose for a photo then DON’T.
  • If your photo was taken against your wishes, ask for it to be deleted and ask to check the camera that it has in fact been deleted (check trash as well).
  • Be aware that something done in jest may not seem so funny later on. Having it deleted from multiple sources is not as easy for individuals as it is for organisations like the AFL.
  • Any photo that you wouldn’t like your grandparents to see may be a photo that shouldn’t exist. Think twice before you pose for or take a photo that could be embarrassing to you or to others.
  • Remember that any photo can be published. Even if your Facebook settings are private, or your tweets are protected, your “friends” can pass it on.
  • Once a photo has been published, even if it is deleted later, others may have copied and kept it or republished it themselves.
  • Don’t publish or email photos of your friends without their permission.

The repercussions of a moment of silliness may last a lot longer and have ramifications that it is difficult to foresee.