As far as I can recall, my first interaction with a computer was in the summer of my fourth grade year in elementary school. I remember it like it was yesterday actually. Both my parents were in IT, my dad being a computer engineer, and my mom a computer programmer; but I never took the time to actually use a machine. My elementary school had just opened a “highly gifted” program for students that excelled among their gifted peers. One of the requirements of the program was that each student must be experts in Microsoft office, so that summer my parents showed me the ropes. Looking back now, I realize this is when the technological boom really began, only a year prior to Google’s existence.
Let’s just think of the technological transition of this generation. Before using the computer that day, my time was either occupied by social interactions with family members, or watching television. Now, at age 10, my brother spends more time on Facebook than he does on video games or playing outside with his friends. So, does this mean that his increased usage of Facebook as an SNS makes him more susceptible to sexual exposure and/or abuse than other extra-curricular activities? Honestly, I think I disagree for reasons that are further explained by Tracy Mitrano in “A Wider World: Youth, Privacy, and Social Networking Technologies.” I think Mitrano’s article was articulated extremely well by including anecdotes, facts, and statistical analysis to prove her point. Mitrano explains the flaws of passed laws that aimed to protect the privacy of people using SNSs. Many of these past laws, including the Communications Decency Act (1990) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA, 1998), contained vague language that didn’t quite prevent children from being sexually abused, but instead may restrict “creativity, technological advancements, and free speech” (Mitrano). She goes on to emphasize that the academic goal of teachers should be to teach their students how to effectively and appropriately use SNSs and protect themselves thereof. I agree with this idea completely. If we examine each social network that has prevailed on the Internet, we can see that privacy will always be an issue, but incidents of sexual abuse can only be controlled/monitored to a certain extent by the site themselves. For instance, although Facebook has several privacy options, whether you can block certain photos or report an incidence of sexual harassment, people will still find ways to get around this because of the purpose of the site in itself. Social networking sites are created with the primary purpose of interaction, regardless if you know or don’t know the people who you may be interacting with. Now of course this excludes sites that require a job/school specific domain to join. Nonetheless, government intervention can only prevent so much since there are several things to consider, such as the difference between nonconsensual interaction and consensual interaction. For instance, COPPA controls the acquisition of personally identifiable information from persons thirteen and under on the Internet by requiring adult permission (http://www.ftc.gov/ogc/coppa1.htm). The ease of lying about your age or posting pictures of someone who you aren’t allows users to create identities that are seemingly authentic.
In regards to the extreme increase of sexting in the past few years we can explore this idea. As discussed by Amy Hasinoff in “Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online,” most interpretations of mobile media don’t take into account that users make their information accessible, so they inherently create their own privacy issues. Although people may enjoy sharing private images or ideas with each other, a majority feel uncomfortable sharing this with others. So, shouldn’t they just keep it to themselves? This is something government intervention cannot enforce. There is no way to tell people what is appropriate from what isn’t because that is dependent on their personal preference of appropriateness, which includes both age and sexual concerns. Don’t get me wrong here. Indeed, the law can determine what is allowed to be shown, but it cannot prevent people from consensual decisions of exposing inappropriate behavior, though consequences may follow. I think the most important thing in regards to youth and the use of social media technologies is to consider all factors of technological development and how they can be controlled to create a safer online environment. As stated clearly by Mitrano, “In a networked world, the previous generation’s advice to children—”Don’t talk to strangers”—no longer makes any sense. Talking to strangers is part of the magic of the Internet. However, parents do need to talk to their children.”