Register at Your Own Risk

Before the Internet became the Information Superhighway or the ultimate playground for predator’s or Pandora’s Box and the root of all evil, parents were worried with a little gadget called the telegraph. That’s dinosaur technology for us now but guardians were worried about the creeper at the other end of the wire just as much as they are now with the person behind the profile. Sure there have been many cases of children who have been prey for sick-minded adults but to say that the Internet is a place where children are unsafe and vulnerable is an exaggeration. What’s more, sexting can’t fit under the same umbrella if it’s between people who are romantically involved. Of course we wish that teenagers had better judgment and weren’t so naïve about who they show their nude bodies to; but the danger of being exposed though social media can’t be put in the same danger zone as meeting nefarious strangers. In many cases sexting can be irresponsible but putting you at risk for pregnancy… and rape? That’s a slippery slope.

As shown in Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study, the number of youth involved in the exchange, both consensual and not, of sexual content through social media, is not as alarming as we might have thought. In fact, only 1% of the youth surveyed had been involved in an exchange that potentially violated child pornography laws within the past year (Mitchell et al, 6).

Aside from parents and educators worried about their exhibitionist children, religious leaders are addressing the trend and making it part of their indoctrination – good church going kids don’t sext. In two article posted about the topic: Sexting: Youth Pastors Deal with New Challenges; and Growing Sexting Trend and How to Respond posted on Effective Youth Ministry’s website, only extreme cases are showcased. In the first article the story of a young man who was convicted on charges of child pornography is told – he was eventually placed on the list of sexual offenders. What isn’t emphasized, though, is that the woman who he shared photos of was his girlfriend,17 at the time of the incident. In the second article, faulty data is used to convince readers that sexting is at epidemic levels – it includes people ages 13-26 in its survey sample. A person over eighteen no longer falls under child pornography restrictions – parents have no business monitoring a 26 year old’s sexual behavior.

It’s important to make the distinction of age and relationships because they are important players behind sexting. More importantly, these players are overlooked when measuring the number of teenagers engaging in sexting and the consequences displayed don’t necessarily always follow. They’re poisoning the well – posing a false dilemma, “register at your own risk”.

Church going or non-church going, teenagers are at their hormonal peek, fitting into their new and developing bodies. Who knows if before sexting, email, and Facebook, these kids weren’t exposing themselves in person-to-person contact, or weren’t sending each other sexually explicit messages elsewhere. These mediums have simply made it easier to store and replicate the messages.

Furthermore, the dangers in sexting aren’t in encountering strangers and sexual predators. None of the survey results or examples in the article demonstrate that a child has been molested or sexually assaulted as a result of sexting. That’s not to say that it isn’t dangerous – it’s just a different kind of dangerous. It can harm social relationships, your reputation and future but it won’t put a female at a higher risk of getting pregnant, much less by a stranger. Of course, it’s important to mention that most cases of rape occur between people that know each other. Still, there is no evidence to back the conclusion that sexting leads children to unwanted sexual contact with strangers.

As with most that is mysterious and unknown, sexting is a new practice, and older generations who are not familiar with it are, to no surprise, overly-concerned. It’s an issue but it’s not going to destroy the lives of our youth. It may well be a tool for sexual expression, and a vent safer than frequent sexual encounters. Such content when produced my females may well work as a liberator from gender norms and can be in some ways considered a feminist movement, as discussed by Amy Adele Hasinoff. Not to say that it should be considered media production, though – that’s a leap that implies mass production, which I’m not willing to take.

Sexting: it ain’t so bad!

It’s no shock that sexting can result in terrible outcomes. There have been cases of suicide and bullying, especially involving teens and young adults. An Ohio news team covered a story about Mansfield Middle School and how they’ve chosen to address the issue of teen sexting and cyberbullying. The article notes how big of an issue it is, especially for parents, living in the Mansfield area. The story focuses on what the school has been doing for the parents, providing them with a cyberbulling and sexting workshop where parents can learn about the dangers of sending explicit images that “can never be deleted.” The school is mainly aiming to make parents aware of the dangers their children are in and wants to teach them how to prevent it from happening.

While I understand the issue with middle school students sending one another explicit images, I don’t think the school addressed the issue in the proper way. Youth use media as the new public space to interact and talk with friends, according to dana boyd in her article “Why Youth ❤ Social Networks.” Kids no longer feel as though there are physical places they can go to with a group of friends without feeling like they’re unwanted or causing a disruption, so they turn to social media. While they can be in the comfort of their home, they can still escape the grasps of their parents ever-watchful eye. After all, that’s part of what growing up is all about.

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There are dangers of sexting that teens need to be aware of, but that’s just the problem. Mansfield Middle School is teaching the parents about sexting and bullying and not addressing who’s actually participating in the act: youth. Kids will only feel more trapped under the grips of their parents if they’re simply being lectured by an adult who they may assume already doesn’t trust their access to technology, and that’s the opposite of what Mansfield wants. As boyd notes, the more parents worry and agitate kids to “protect themselves” online, the more kids will engage in this act just to “avoid the watchful eye of parents.” The last thing you want to do is have your kid lying to you about the way they use technology. However, by not highlighting the potential danger and instead teaching parents new ways to sneakily watch how their kids are interacting with social media is only furthering the gap.

While I agree that sexting (especially among minors) is not to be taken lightly, I think it gets a very bad rap. I don’t think it helps that sexting is linked with teens, who are perceived to be living in “an overly sexualized culture” that now can take that culture onto the web. Sexting doesn’t just happen with teens, but when it does it can go in two directions. Yes, it can definitely be a method for bullying and a way for people to exploit others by violating their privacy. Parents fail to see that teens actually care about their privacy though, and it leads to them taking extreme measures to keep them safe. In trying to teach them the importance of maintaining their privacy in social media, parents violate the boundaries teens have created between the two of them (either with their social profiles, sexting, etc). They use this as justification for violating teens online privacy, by snooping and controlling what they have access to. This is “the key hypocrisy surrounding teens and privacy” according to boyd and Marwick.

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So while there are very real dangers about the possibility of being exploited through social media, it can also be a way for teens to explore their sexuality. By producing sexuality through a form like sexting, they’re likewise producing their own media. It’s a way to explore the technology and, what most fail to realize, actually has the potential to be totally safe. It can be an agreed upon private act between two people. It can be consensual and that’s what a lot of people don’t understand. It’s also a method of self-expression. As noted in “Sexting as Media Production” on the issue, “sexual image production is not inherently harmful, but that the malicious distribution of private images certainly is.”

Likewise, sometimes it’s easier for teens to express their true feelings through a less personal mode of communication such as texting. It’s hard to always speak face-to-face with someone on certain topics and thus social media can give teens more confidence to speak their minds. Going along with that, it’s sometimes harder for youth to express their sexuality in person. With sexting, they can explore their feelings and themselves in a new context that could help them build confidence and understand their sexuality more (“Sexting as Media Production“). Of course this has the potential to go awry, but if done in a safe way I see no problem!

A minor over-reaction?

In her article, “Few Teens Sexting Racy Photos,” Lindsay Tanner discusses why sexting shouldn’t be viewed as a negative form of communication and how youth should not be prosecuted or vilified for sexting. Through research Tanner discovers that teen sexting is far less common than people think, which brings up the issue that perhaps adults (parents, faculty, dominant media) are over-reacting to the issue of sexting. Interestingly, Tanner also finds that different age groups use sexting differently. For example, there was a case in which a 10-year old boy had sent an 11-year old girl a photo of his genitals to “gross her out.” Another case involved a 16-year old girl accidentally posted a nude photo of herself on a social network and a 16-year old boy found the photo and redistributed it when the girl refused to send him more nude photos. Tanner also claims that exploring sexuality is normal teens and that sexting is, in a sense, over analyzed because it takes place in an environment that adults are not familiar with. Tanner concludes her article with Dr. Victor Strasburger, who claims that the brains of teenagers are not “mature enough to fully realize the consequences of their actions” and thus should not be prosecuted for they mistakes (Tanner).

I thought that Tanner really brought up some interesting issues with sexting that we discussed in class. I thought Tanner’s use of the two different case studies correlated with Hasinoff’s article, “Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online” which brings up the issue of age and how it determines whether sexting is good or bad. Hasinoff argues that while sexting underage is considered dangerous, wrong, and bad, sexting of age becomes a form of self-expression. In the case of the 10-year olds, the boy wasn’t prosecuted because he wasn’t old enough to “understand the magnitude of his actions” whereas in the case of the 16 year olds the boy was clearly exploiting the girl and thus sexting between youth is portrayed in a negative light.

By reassuring that exploring sexuality is normal, Tanner reverts the blame to technology and not on the teenagers who take racy photos. This brings up the issue of privacy and how social media may be causing adults to over-react to youth sexting. Mitchell’s article, “Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth sexting: A National Study,” claims that as a rapidly evolving society we have the tendency to be “easily alarmed about changing youth mores” (Mitchell). Perhaps sexting is greeted as a “sign of hypersexualization and extreme risk-taking” (Mitchell) because it’s different and it takes place in a technological environment, which makes compromising photos easier to replicate and distribute. I feel like Tanner victimizes sexters by displacing the blame on technology itself, which I believe is not the case because the technology does not replicate and redistribute sexts by itself. In their article, “Social Steganography: Privacy in Netowrked Publics” boyd and Marwick discuss the different definitions of privacy and how social norms play into this issue of privacy. Perhaps underage sexting is blown out of porportion because youth have not quite grasped the notion that there are varying degrees of privacy.

I also feel that Tanner takes a very casual approach to sexting. She claims that sexters should not be prosecuted because they don’t quite understand the consequences of their actions and that they should simply be taught that anything posted on the internet is “potentially there forever” (Tanner). She also believes that sexting has been “blown out of proportion” and how “our society has gotten hysterical” (Tanner) over under age sexting, which reminded me of our discussion of moral panic. Unlike the dominant narratives that portray sexting as dangerous behavior, Tanner portrays sexting as something teenagers are curious to experiment with.

Some questions to consider:

-If sexting is so disturbing, then why aren’t people reacting the same way to porn? I feel like there really isn’t a difference to sexting and porn. It’s basically an issue of whether you know the person in the racy photo or not. And that people in porn are paid.

-If a sext is redistributed, does it become a form of cyber-bullying? Especially if one is “forced” to take racy photos?

-Dr. Strasburger claims that “teenagers are neurologically programmed to do dumb things” (Tanner). Does this quote and the idea that exploring sexuality mean that sexting is okay for teens or is it just displacing the issue somewhere else?

-How privacy is defined through sexting: at what point does sexting cross the line of privacy? Is redistributing compromising photos without consent invasion of privacy?

 

Personally, I believe that reactions to sexting are overrated. In my high school, there were two sexting scandals and I thought that it was pointless for other people to be involved. I feel that getting more people involved in a sexting scandal just expands the scandal into a crisis and blows it out of proportion. It just becomes another issue of privacy and how people respect that privacy.

MODERN MEDIA

In the most recent episode of Modern Family, the writers examine the socially mediated relationship between parents and their children. Claire, the matriarch, is a new Facebook user who wants to add her two daughters, Alex and Haley, as friends. The girls are reluctant and actively ignore their mother’s requests. They eventually acquiesce, making Claire very happy. Claire’s happiness quickly disappears when she discovers that an old college friend has tagged a picture of her from a college spring break trip in which she is wearing a bikini and drinking booze. This episode deals with several concepts outlined by Danah Boyd in her article “Why Youth ❤ Social Network Sites.”

Although her article deals exclusively with MySpace, the similarities between MySpace and Facebook help maintain the article’s relevance. Boyd says that many teens begin participating in social network sites “because of the available social voyeurism and the opportunity to craft a personal representation in an increasingly popular online community.” “Teens join MySpace [or Facebook] to maintain connections with their friends,” to build identities, and to manage the impression they make on others. Social Network Sites have become communities with their own rules and cues, and “the process of learning to read social cues and react accordingly is core to being socialized into a society.”

Facebook is a community that makes young people feel closer to people they know offline. It is a sort of community or society where youth are independent and have control over image, relationships, etc. Parents are trying to tap into this in order to understand and grow closer to their children but there is a definite generational divide. Most of them are not tech savvy enough to completely understand how Facebook functions, but their lack of experience also diminishes their ability to understand the necessary social cues to exist in the social media world. Claire is clearly trying to be the cool mom who befriends her daughters on Facebook in order to grow closer to them and understand their world. The girls are reluctant for several obvious reasons, and one is that their mom might misinterpret social cues and write embarrassing posts or be overly active on her daughters’ profiles. Another reason Alex and Haley don’t want their mother to friend them on Facebook is because it is an invasion of privacy. Their online lives are separate from their lives at home and they want to maintain this distance. Boyd discusses different definitions of public and private, and these girls want their profiles to be public to their friends but private from their parents. A parent’s intrusion on Facebook book is akin to a parent trying to “hang out” at the mall with their child and his/her friends.

Many parents also join Facebook for the same reason their children do—to be a part of a community where they can connect with offline friends and distant encounters. They have the same desires to create an identity and maintain an online image. Their voyeuristic tendencies are not much different from their children’s.

Modern Family frames social media as a kid’s world that parents do not understand and cannot easily use. This is evinced by the girls reluctance to friend their mother and Claire’s ignorance about the photo tagging feature. The show ignores the idea of adults using social media in the same way as kids.

Space Invaders

Remember KONY 2012?  Remember creator Jason Russell’s stark-naked freakout?  Well what I’m about to lay down for you has absolutely nothing to do with any of this ish.

Remember Tyler Clementi?  Okay, okay, but orange you glad I didn’t say banana?  Seriously though, jokes aside, if you don’t know who Clementi is, maybe you are familiar with the efforts of the Trevor Project?  Danielle Radcliffe…Lady Gaga…Bueller?  If bells aren’t ringing – besides the obvious fact that you live under a rock, and possibly, might not understand English – I’ll break it down real quickly for you:

Tyler Clementi was an 18 year old Rutgers freshman.  A couple of days before leaving the old Buffalo nest, he told his parents he was gay.  He also did something that I’m sure all of us did upon receiving our housing assignments at NYU; Tyler looked up his roommate, Dharun Ravi, online.  He quipped to friends over IM about Ravi’s ethnic background, and Ravi similarly judged Clementi.  Subsequent to moving in, both boys hardly interacted, and wouldn’t see one another for days at a time.  I don’t know much about where you dormed, but let me just say, it would take some intense sort of uncomfortable pressure, and grand effort to avoid my freshy fish roommate.

Weinstein didn’t give me much a chance anyways.

But back to the dudes – one night, Clementi basically texted Ravi and asked if he could have some alone time in the room.  Some space.  Apparently worried about theft, Ravi left his computer (slash webcam) on and in a skeptical position.  While viewing this stream from another room, Ravi and a companion (Molly Wei) watched Clementi kissing another man, both with their shirts off and pants on.  Ravi blasted off comments about the private content on his Twitter.

In another incident shortly after, Ravi posted information about a “Clementi viewing party”, this time inviting friends to watch with him, along with instructions on how to view it from wherever else anyone wanted to.  Clementi, noting the camera was on, and turned in a rather apprehensive angle, unplugged the power cord.

Tyler wrote extensively about how this bothered him on Yahoo! message boards and the website Just Us Boys.  He even filed a complaint with his residential advisor after reading Ravi’s tweets, realizing Ravi had web-streamed the first incident, and intended on publicizing a second sexual encounter.  Tyler asked to be placed into a new room.

About a day after this, Clementi posted a status update on his Facebook, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”  His body was recovered from the Hudson River a week later.

This is all relevant, because about two days ago, Dharun Ravi, among other things, was found “guilty of multiple counts of  invasion of privacy” by a New Jersey court.  Reporter Megan DeMarco summarizes this as, “Invasion of Privacy, under circumstances that caused Tyler Clementi to be intimidated, and considering the manner in which the offense was committed, Clementi reasonably believed that he was selected to be the target of the offense because of sexual orientation.”

In class, private versus public became a clear thematic principle, but emerged with rather hazy margins.  Boyd and Marwick had us asking, what IS privacy?  Tbh, I was pretty stumped myself.  What the eff is privacy?  I can think about it, and somehow I just know it, but how do you explain it to someone else?  And if the text, “Social Steganography: Privacy in Networked Publics” rings true, then “all teens have a sense of privacy, although their definitions of privacy vary widely.”  I feel like this concept asks us to assume that Ravi and Clementi have different interpretations of privacy, since Clementi’s suicide/uncomfortableness was clearly a result of Ravi’s exposing too much on a SNS.   But then according to the law, Ravi crossed the line.  So if everyone has a different perspective on what privacy is, how can someone invade it?  How can this be when Boyd and Marwick say that “a universal notion of privacy remains enigmatic”?  The conclusion is this:  Social norms act as a “regulatory force.”  These standards, called norms,  are  universal.  Majority of people, like Tyler, would not want their sexual interactions displayed/ridiculed online and streamed on the web.  This is where we get the idea that this is WRONG.

In the article, “As Soon As You Get On Bebo You Just Go Mad,” Willett explains that “questions are raised about young people’s understanding of privacy, trust, and credibility.”  Although she doesn’t go into detail, Willett notes that there are “high profile concerns such as harmful contact and content (e.g. cyberbullying).”  Referencing the fact that there are specific actions, in Clementi’s case, web-based bullying, that are seen as out of line means that there is a common understanding among people.  It seems that regardless of privacy being about intimate space, there are universal boundaries that outline what is unjust.

It seems privacy isn’t as ambiguous a thought as we think, but it is being incessantly invaded and paraded on the Internet.

One last feature to finish off this discussion of privacy: a cartoon from The New Yorker highlights the privacy issues we encounter as online social-network users.   How do we control this content release?  Is this essentially possible?  AND before I finally leave you (I know, boo-hoo, don’t be so sad) do you think that Facebook and Google+ releasing personal information you attribute to the site is an invasion of privacy?

 

I’m a mature young adult because I use social media to get my news!

In the past few weeks, The Kony controversy has spread like wildfire across facebook, twitter, and other social media. You would have to live under a technology-free rock to have not heard about it. Or maybe, it took you a while to hear about it because you aren’t on facebook! While there remains controversy about the Invisible Children group and what effect the Kony video should have upon its viewers, and what action it should spark among its viewers, there is no question about the effectiveness that social media has had in proliferating the spread of the video and its message.

More importantly than the rapid spread of the video, is the overwhelming demographic of those who are spreading it: young adults. In this article, the difference in news sources used to watch and share the video is emphasized. Most teens and young adults watched the Kony video on facebook, while adults would be more likely to watch the video on youtube after learning about it on television from traditional news sources. Also, “the Internet was three times more important as a news-learning platform for young adults than traditional media such as television, newspapers, and radio”. Very few young adults learned about the video from these traditional news platforms (like TV news and newspapers) – showing a widened generational gap between how we get our news compared to how our parents do.

But what does this say about how our demographic uses social media? Like in boyd’s article, “Why Youth ❤ Social Media”, she established that social media had become the place for us to “hang out” instead of going to the mall. But, as we have domesticated the use of social media in everyday life, its use has gradually evolved for us, and it is now much more complex than being just another place where our social life exists. We now use social media as a platform for not only sharing news, but participating in activism as well.

By using social media as a place to enact change in the world, we are making a statement about the ability of youth to have an effect on issues that, pre social media, would have been out of our reach. We can know be educated about issues halfway across the word, for example in Africa, and find a way to connect  ourselves and get involved in some way. It’s almost as if, instead of making a statement about using a certain SNS (like the youth in Willet’s Bebo example) because we are old enough, we are making a statement about how we connect with each other and now how we get our news. We consciously choose which social media sites to use, and what information we want to share on them. We are sharing news in particular on facebook because we are mature enough to talk about important issues and know that we can make a difference. Perhaps we so quickly (and naturally) gravitate toward not using more traditional news outlets like television and news papers because we never became as comfortable with navigating them like we are with social network sites. We know facebook like the back of our hand, so where else would go to spread a message as quickly and effectively?

As social media and our generation have grown up simultaneously, social media’s ever (and rapidly) changing norms have hardly ever been noticed by us. We have grown together, growing pains and all, and the changes often seem seamless to us. It’s pretty much impossible to remember life without the internet as it is now, and we are one of the first generations to not ever know life without internet. Internet use has become such a natural part of our life, as we use it for socializing, getting news, school work, playing games, and so much more.  So now as we near adulthood, we use our social media to show that we are growing up, by using it in more adult ways. For example, we use social media as a platform to show our maturity in being able to fight for certain causes, like Invisible Children and the fight against Kony. Generations past may have held protests in person, but we now have the ability to protest from anywhere in the world, and we are using it to the fullest. We are making a statement, whether we are aware of it or not, about what social media has become to us: both a place for a social life and for our transition into adulthood.

There Is No Such Thing As Privacy On The Internet

The generation of teenagers, students, and young adults that have grown up with the rapid development of SNS are essentially writing the history book of dangerous repercussions these sites have. In the New York Times article For Some, Online Persona Undermines a Résumé, Alan Finder talks about how interviewers are looking applicants up on SNS searching for “risqué or teasing photographs and provocative comments about drinking, recreational drug use and sexual exploits.” Though these interviewers may not be directly linked (via Friends or Followers) on SNS, there are still ways they can gain access to profiles.

The element of “privacy” is what comes into play here, and it is one that is very controversial. In Social Steganography: Privacy in Networked Publics, boyd and Marwick say that “every teenager wants privacy;” however, this privacy has been taken away with the advent of social media- like it or not. Therefore, the message that needs to be ingrained in all SNS user’s brains is that once something is posted, it is out for the world to see no matter what privacy settings are in place.

SNS are created to allow users to interact, and not until now are we seeing that these interactions more often than not are being viewed by our nightmare audiences. Though laws can be enforced to prevent these privacy concerns, I think that it is more important to educate users, rather than put limits on behavior.The government can enforce what is legal and illegal to post on the internet, but it can also enforce what age is legal to drink, and who actually abides by that? I think the issue at stake is that kids and teenagers need to be more aware about the implications of their actions.

Rebekah Willett explains in her article, As soon as you get on Bebo you just go mad, that SNS are meeting young people’s need for independence, and provides a platform for their growing dependence on peers for support and increasing exploration of identity. Therefore, for young users to safely and harmlessly “write themselves into being” they need to be more meaningfully educated on what exactly the harms are.

Something that we are beginning to see now is college aged students who have experienced problems with inappropriate Facebook posts or pictures that are preventing them from achieving things in the workplace. Essentially, this generation is the first generation that social media has hit hard, and I think that the path that has been set will be a good one to use to educate children at a younger age with more “real” examples.

In Why Youth ❤ Social Network Sites, danah boyd explains the four properties of networked publics- persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences.  These four concepts are what essentially are diminishing privacy for all because once a user posts a photo (or anything) on their SNS for their immediate network to see, technology has created an environment where other users could do whatever they desire with that photo. For example, my sister has a YouTube video of her that her friend posted on Facebook. Both people tagged in the video had very limited profiles. The next day, an unknown person uploaded that video from Facebook to YouTube and within a week had over one million views. The video is funny to the public, but humiliating to my sister. Something that was “private” was made very public with the click of a button, and now, when you search my sisters name on Google, those websites come up before her Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. For someone in the midst of a job search, a video of something taken completely out of context but shines a very negative light on her is not very beneficial thing to be linked to.

I feel like when I was first interacting with MySpace and AIM as a middle schooler I was only given safety precautions about older sexual predators. I never was worried about them because I only interacted with people I knew and I felt like the people who were involved in those stories were always distantly located from me. However, in our current society we have much more applicable examples and reasons one should maintain a “cleaned-up” profile.

No one really believes something until it actually hits home with them, and that is true for the majority of our society. Live and learn, they say. Our parents all tried to tell us how our actions online would effect our actions offline, but did anyone actually listen? No, because no one takes that seriously until their friend gets kicked off the college sports team because a NCAA official found Facebook pictures of underage drinking or their sister got kicked out of her sorority because she had a YouTube video that made a bad name for her chapter. Not until then will users clean up their online lives.

“This is really the first time that we’ve seen that stage of life captured in a kind of time capsule and in a public way,” the CEO of Experience Inc. says. “It [SNS] has its place, but it’s moving from a fraternity or sorority living room. It’s now in a public arena.” A group marketing manager for Microsoft said that “For the first time ever, you suddenly have very public information about almost any candidate… And that it’s becoming very much a common tool.”