Social Media, Teenagers and Privacy


I mentioned that I’ve been speaking to teenagers lately about social media, best practices and privacy. I talk to them about how great I think it is and how it will be a part of their lives professionally and personally.  I use it all the time so I never tell them “not to”.  I do, however, want them to talk about how they perceive it and how they understand the necessity to be cautious and aware.

Besides discussing cyberbullying on social media which seems to be in the news weekly. Thanks to the Miami Dolphins it is consuming ESPN’s Sports Center as well as the News.  Yes, I’m a Sports Center addict and completely at a loss as to why this is now becoming a major investigation but that’s for another blog.

Talking to high school teenagers, I have learned that they are very well aware of the lack of true privacy on social media.  Teenagers understand that they don’t own Facebook or SnapChat or Instagram and that what goes on these vehicles is never really “private”.  I talk to them about the history of privacy in America and how it has always been an issue going back to the Puritans who were supposed to “spy on their neighbors”.  Government Census, mail confidentiality, wire tapping, etc., etc. We are not virgins to the idea that we are being “spied” upon.  Does social media make it easier to spy and remove even more privacy on the Internet?  You bet and our teenagers know this.  They know that SnapChat photos may disappear from their phone and a text message may be deleted but it isn’t really gone.

Interestingly, while they accept this inherent lack of privacy regarding technology, they are flabbergasted when I present the following scenario to them.

You are applying for college and have been brought in for an interview with the Admissions Officer.  They go through the interview and then politely but firmly ask you to sit down in front of a computer and log in to all your social media sites. They then ask you to take another seat so that they may peruse all of your social media pages/posts/photos/videos.  

Without fail, the student I am using to role play looks at me wide-eyed and with incredulity when I ask them to log in to all their personal social media sites.  That they say is a definite invasion of their privacy.  We talk about this as a group and pretty much they all agree that this is not appropriate and ask me if it is really happening? I tell them it does happen and that many states (36 ) have enacted or are trying to enact laws to stop this activity along with stopping employers from doing the same.

I agree with our teenagers.  The inherent lack of privacy on social media and the Internet is something we don’t think about until it is up close and personal.  Similar to it being okay to spy on my neighbor in order to protect me and my family but how dare you spy on me. Some say…I have nothing to hide, let the government spy and many of our teenagers feel this way too UNTIL I bring up the college scenario or the same scenario when going for a part-time or full-time job.  Then it’s very much a personal affront to their privacy.

How do you feel about your privacy?  Do you want to feel protected and secure but not intruded upon? Is there a double-standard for what is okay for someone else but not okay for me?  Are we not voyeuristic when it comes to celebrities?  What is their privacy worth? These issues will continue to be a part of our and our teenager’s lives as social media and technology forge ahead with our laws attempting to catch up and they will.  I am confident of that.  Talk to a teenager – you might be surprised what you hear and what you learn from them.

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