Ambient broadcasting. This was a phrase used to describe how ‘millenials’ – those born after 1980 – view sharing personal information online in a recent report by the Pew Center. I thought it a very accurate description of what all of us, young and old, are doing on social networks, blogs, comment sections on websites, or message boards on a regular basis and for any purpose.
Why? Because as respondents of the study mused “publicity will replace privacy” and “sharing is the new normal.” For today’s youth, striving for acceptance among peers means tending to an online persona as they do their real selves. And while divulging some personal information online is necessary to stay connected to people online, partake in an online gaming community or find others who have similar likes or dislikes, there are also more practical reasons kids share as much as they do.
Impressing a college recruiter might include starting a blog, website, online cause, or amassing a following of any kind online (for almost any reason). Finding a job sometimes requires uploading a resume to a job search site and reaching out online to companies or individuals that may lead them to employment.
But while all of this is true, privacy in an online world requires us to teach kids about more than just resisting the need to share too much. In the wake of the case of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University freshman who committed suicide after his roommate broadcast over the Internet his intimate encounters via a hidden webcam, there is a renewed urgency in reminding and educating kids about not just one’s own privacy but that of another’s. When we talk about online privacy to them, we need to help them understand how to maintain privacy, what to expect others to do with their privacy, and how to respect the privacy of others.
Managing our own privacy
Most parents already advise their kids about never giving out too much information (or talking) to strangers. Parents instinctively also guide their kids about the same online. The hardest part is helping kids recognize beforehand when they might be sharing ‘TMI’, or too much information. Part of maintaining privacy online is using features (privacy settings) and technologies (security software) that can help put walls up around their personal information, but those walls are not always impenetrable. So the safest and best life-skill to teach them is to exercise good judgment before they ever put anything out there. For my kids, the test is “if it’s something you wouldn’t tell the neighborhood, don’t share it.”
Protecting our right to privacy
Respecting others’ privacy
In the process of teaching kids to protect their own privacy, we should also remind them to respect that of others. While the Tyler Clementi case is being viewed as a cyberbullying case by some, it is fundamentally a case of gross invasion of privacy with the worst possible consequences. Whatever the motivation by the fellow students charged in the case, they clearly engaged in an illegal act. And beyond the legal boundaries, it was simply immoral and unethical. At a minimum, and as part of any effort to teach kids to be good digital citizens, we need to remind them to treat people online as they would in person. Helping them develop empathy in an online world may be far more difficult since others may not (and may never) be visible to them (or they to others). But as with their own personal information (and lives), if someone doesn’t want to share it, it shouldn’t be shared.
The Internet has changed the boundaries of what younger generations deem private, and we are all learning how to balance the exchange of personal information for some desired benefit. Ultimately, as is the case with many other facets of teaching kids to be safe online, both technology and awareness will go a long way to helping them understand, protect, and respect privacy in an online world.
For more safety tips and advice, go to www.trendmicro.com/go/safety
For the complete poll on privacy from Common Sense Media, go to www.commonsensemedia.org