Who Doesn’t Love Neopets?!

Neopets is a very popular gaming/networking site amongst the youth, however it’s not limited to that age-range. As surprising as it may sound, many adults actually actively engage on this site. As someone who was a former Neopets-addict, I can honestly say that Neopets was definitely an appealing site, where I spent hours each day, which was possibly even more addicting at the time than Facebook and Twitter are nowadays..? From my past Neopets gaming experience, I can recall a number of things that made the site so appealing to youngsters (as I was about 13 at the time) besides the fact that usage of the site is free of charge (though you can pay for upgrades and perks). The site allows you to “create” a Neopet of your own, that is, choosing a pet from their limited selection and customizing their color, personalities and abilities. You earn points that are called “Neopoints” from games, contests, opening shops, trading post, auctions, stock market, you get the point. It’s like a whole reality in the virtual world. These neopoints act as a form of currency that can buy your pets food, battle equipments, paintbrushes to change their looks, etc. Most certainly, teens and kids who actively use the site can give endless reasons on why they love Neopets from all the varieties of things they can do on it. But just like any social media sites, having positives along with negatives,  concerned guardians raised awareness to possible dangers of the site.

The article, “It’s a Whole Neo World; Neopets.com is a Raging Success. But Some Find It Inappropriate and Even Scary” brought up several issues that have parents concerned about what their kids or teens are exposed to in such virtual online gaming sites. One of the alarming topics was the appropriateness of the gambling games on the site. Players of all ages on the site have the ability to purchase lottery tickets and scratchcards that can win them more Neopoints. Another concerning issue was the “Neofriend” function where users of the site can “Friend” each other, kind of like the same reciprocating function of friend requests on Facebook. Guardians fear the anonymity of these “Neofriend” requests that can be from possible predators who may be preying on their children. Lastly, the issue of advertisements appearing all over the site has caused a stir amongst adults who have children and teens on the site. They disliked the fact that a gaming site that is supposedly appropriate for the youth, are even targeting these young children and teens as consumers.

I personally found some of the issues in the article to be far from dangerous and concerning. It is very understandable that parents and guardians have the desire to protect their children and teens from anything even remotely harmful, but many of these concerns as I see them, arise from the lack of knowledge of these sites. The issue of these ‘gambling’ games on Neopets is nothing but a friendly game in a virtual world that uses Neopoints instead of real world money. And again, they are just games and can even teach a lesson or two to users that earning money (Neopoints) is hard work, which in this case is by playing games. I don’t think many parents see that it may actually be safer for their kids to stay inside their homes and play such games as a way of escape than allowing their kids to go outside and possibly experience the real dangers of gambling in the physical world. In the reading, “Why Youth ♥ Social Media: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life”, boyd pointed out the issue that teens don’t actually have a space in the physical society, hence their love for these social network sites (134). What she meant by the teens as not having a place in physical society is the limitation of activities and privileges teens can do in the real world: they’re too young to go to parties or clubs, can’t hang out late at night, or do things that adults would consider “fun”. So the web and social networking sites act as a form of “escape”, where they can “hang out” with their friends and such. The same idea goes to these teens and kids who are on Neopets. They use Neopets as an escape. The controversy of ads on the site may be blown a bit out of proportion the way I see it. Kids, teens, adults of all ages are being exposed to countless advertisements each day, whether they know it or not. Think of it this way, isn’t letting your child play on a gaming site that contains some ads, where the games and content of the site allows your child to use their minds strategically much better than having them sit in a front of a television, drowning blankly into even more ads than they would be exposed to on sites like Neopets? I also find Neopets to be similar in ways to a popular youth SNS in the UK called, Bebo as discussed in the article, “As Soon As You Get on Bebo You Just Go Mad: Young Consumers and the Discursive Construction of Teenagers Online”. Willett found that the youth express themselves and perform their identities through updating their profiles, and customizing their pages (285). Players on Neopets do the same, they can customize their “Use-Lookups” (equivalent to a profile), the way their Neopets look, and shops, etc. Willett also found that most teens in the UK who used Bebo recognized their age-appropriateness for the site as opposed to other SNS’s (288). Neopets in a way sets their games and contents of their site to attract more of the younger audience, which in turn allows their young players to recognize that the site as appropriate for them and peers their age. Overall, parents should get a full understanding of such sites and understand the needs of their teens and children before criticizing and banning them from the internet.

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Are You Ready for This?

Nowadays, the media has been preoccupied with the age appropriateness of social media and the Internet in general with articles of youth cyberbullying, sexting and online predation. In spite of these seemingly prevalent issues, our legal system is ill prepared to properly deal with these problems. This is partly because adolescents are considered to be naive and ignorant when it comes to cyberspace. Thus, they are rendered unaccountable for the harm they sometimes cause to others on the Web. Many authoritative figures believe that adolescents do not realize the potential danger they create when they call their friends “sluts” as a joke or post provocative pictures of themselves in bathing suits. On the other hand, younger generations are also applauded for their ability to quickly learn and exercise sophisticated usage of new technology that supersedes their predecessors. For example, I can remember how amazed my mother was when she watched me rapidly construct her Facebook page after she spent hours just trying to post a profile picture. She still asks me to help her navigate the site as well as set up her privacy settings even though she has been a member for a couple of years now. Therefore, “on the one hand, the child is positioned as a not-yet competent, not-yet complete social actor who is at risk; and on the other hand, the child is constructed as empowered” (Willett 284). So the question is: Are youths really as unknowledgeable as they might appear?

One recent story addressing this subject is featured in William Glaberson’s New York Times article “Rutgers Verdict Repudiates Notion of Youth as Defense.” Dharun Ravi, a former student of Rutgers University, secretly streamed his gay roommate Tyler Clementi having relations with another man on the Internet inviting others to watch in addition to commenting about it on his Twitter account. Upon this discovery, Clementi subsequently killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in 2010. In his court case, Ravi claimed that his actions were foolish with no intention to harm his roommate and asserts that he has no bias towards homosexuals. He was basically counting on the jurors to interpret his behavior less severely due to the innocence associated with his young age, which he believed in strongly enough to turn down an appealing plea offer. To his dismay, his defense failed terribly as he was convicted of bias intimidation as well as other charges which may include a prison sentence and deportation.

The jurors’ decision is said to be a model for other hate-crime lawsuits surrounding teens because the author notes that “it seems to repudiate the notion that youth was a defense” (Glaberson). It appears to settle the debate over whether youths are liable for their interactions that harm others by declaring that if they are able to employ advanced technology like webcams maliciously, then they should be held accountable for their transgressions. Rebekah Willett, a media culture researcher, came to a similar conclusion in her paper “‘As soon as you get on Bebo you just go mad’: young consumers and the discursive construction of teenagers online” in which she interviewed twenty-four young people aged fourteen to sixteen on their use of social media. Her results showed that subjects positioned themselves as too young for certain SNS like Facebook, but old enough to use other sites to connect with others. Conscious of their vulnerability, they commented on the strategies they employed to protect themselves from the risks of being online. These youths acknowledged that they were in control of asserting their own agency and took safety measures without their parents necessarily demanding that they do so. In my opinion, this awareness of age appropriateness allows youths to be deemed as “independent actors in their own right” when it comes to the Internet, especially social media (Willett 284). Although context should be taken into consideration when assessing the content of their postings, they seem to recognize the ramifications of being online and willingly construct their profiles based on their perceived standard of appropriateness. Therefore, they should be held legally responsible for the wrongdoings they sometimes commit, as exemplified by Ravi‘s case.

Personally, I see the Internet and social media as privileges that can be misused rather easily. (Keeping in mind that I agree that the abuse of the technology is not as prevalent as society makes it out to be, which created this current moral panic.) However, youths are mindful of their safety as most voluntarily navigate and portray themselves on sites with caution. They are more knowledgeable of technology than many give them credit it for. In my opinion, if one deems oneself as sensible and mature enough to partake in the endless opportunities that the Internet has to offer, then one should be prepared to face the consequences when one employs it to harm another. Although I am sure the story is more complicated than I make it out to be, I believe Ravi‘s defense was weak and inapplicable. Ravi knew that inviting others to watch Clementi with his partner on webcam and tweeting references about it would not benefit his roommate. Thus, in accordance with the jurors’ decision, I believe that depending on the circumstances young people should be held accountable because they are well aware of what they doing when they intentionally hurt others online.

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.

Sexting has become part of the adolescence list. Besides drugs, alcohol, sex, and many others, sexting is now a concern for youths. Due to cell phone technologies growing exponentially, the device enables teens, and even younger, an easy way to share images. In class we have discussed the negative effects of sexting and the proper legal actions that should be used.

According to a poll, conducted by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, many adults believe that the solution should be noncriminal. 81 percent of the people polled thought that an educational program would be most beneficial. Our class also came to a consensus that the parents should play a major role, but the schools should as well in educating kids and teens. 75 percent believe in community service, 44 percent believe in fines, and less than 20 percent believe that it should be treated as a sex crime.

In class we have discussed about youth’s violation of self-expression; that sexting is another way of showing who you are.  In “Sexting as Media Production: re-thinking social media,” Amy Hasinoff discusses the necessity for lawmakers and parents to understand that sexting can also be seen as a media production. She write s that sexting is being misrepresented by the media. I don’t believe there is any appropriate young age for any teen to share images of themselves that are naked or even scantily clad. Like drinking it should be a law that you cannot do so unless you are over 21 years. Although, it may provoke students to do otherwise, many recent news articles have come to an agreement that sexting only happens among a small number of kids anyways.

Someone in class also brought up the point that sexting is usually girls instead of boys and that there is an unfair disadvantage to girls. I strongly agree with this point because sexting reinforces gender stereotypes. Sexting can be academically studied and approached as: why do young girls need to subject themselves to provocative images in order to prove to others that they are beautiful or popular, etc? It almost makes girls think that sexting is what they have to do, not that it is their choice. Young girls interpret sexting as a role, that this is what older women (like celebrities) do to be defined as beautiful. The boys that instigate sexting also play into gender stereotypes because it is the number of images that you can get from a variety of girls to show how manly you are. The guy is then in control and he has the power, because he has the ownership of images that could be leaked to the public. Hasinoff’s addresses these issues in a positive way by saying that young girls are making these choices in “complex social and media contexts they do not control.” She goes on by saying that it is ok for girls’ sexual media practices to be leverage against mass media. I cannot agree with Hasinoff that using sexually charged images of young girls will help mediate the representations of youth and femininity in the media, as well as society.  Publicizing and objectifying a young woman’s body is not a solution to sexting or feminine stereotypes.

The technologies we discussed in class, like EyeGuardian, do help parents curb their kids’ behavior but ruins the trust relationship. Although the law seems to be too cruel for young children, I think it is important to categorize it as a sex crime. Although they should not be treated as sexual criminals, they should be aware that their actions basically make them one. Another issue to address is defining what constitutes as sexting and what does not. There needs to be an analysis and categorization of the types of images, so children and teens know what is deemed inappropriate. It may be seen as a violation of privacy but cellphone and internet usage is not contained to just their social sphere and can be easily accessed by anyone.

Who belongs on SNS sites?

In a recent episode of Modern Family, a show that details the life of three families, the decision of Claire Dunphy, to create a Facebook profile is met with much displeasure from both of her teenager daughters. When her daughters question why she signed up for a profile on Facebook since she thinks it is such a bad thing, Claire explains that she only created the Facebook profile so she could catch up with old friends and seems to express a kind of resignation about signing up. Both Alex Dunphy and Haley Dunphy view their mother’s creation of a Facebook profile as upsetting. Haley, the oldest, does not want Claire to be able to see her pictures and find out what she does with her friends at parties. Alex, the younger sister, does not want Claire to post embarrassing family pictures that her friends will be able to see. The siblings are able to evade their mother’s friend request by lying to their mother about the technological affordances Facebook provides.  Once Claire figures out that they lied she assumes they must be trying to hide something on their profiles if they do not want to be her friend on Facebook. In the end, the girls accept their mother’s friend request and they end up finding out secrets about their mother. Once they go to their mother’s profile they see an old spring break picture of their mother. Claire, who is still new to the site, does not understand the tagging feature and is upset by the picture that was posted by an old college friend.

This episode of Modern Family is an interesting one because it illustrates a few of the discourses that we have been discussing in lectures this week. When the daughters first lie to their mother about Facebook’s technological affordances they say that the site has blocks to protect them from older people trying to friend them. This taps into the discourse that Rebekah Willett details in her article, “As soon as you get on Bebo”, where she argues that even youth define their use of social network sites using the popular discourse that youth are vulnerable to the dangers on the internet (289). Claire is quick to believe her daughters’ lie and this serves to reinforce how the older generation believes that the internet is a dangerous place that youth should be protected from. These blocks while hindering Claire’s attempt to friend her own children appear to be a positive to her.

When the girls explain why they felt the need to lie to their mother their reasons were different. Haley stresses the fact that she does not want her mother to look at her pictures and this serves to illustrate a key discussion in danah boyd and Alice Marwick’s article, “Social Steganography”. In this article, the authors stress how parents and their children try to negotiate the boundaries of privacy on social networking sites (24). By focusing on what her mother’s reaction would be rather than her peers’, Haley is clearly echoing  the youth discourse of surveillance and monitoring (24). The author’s point out that youth use this language to explain the difference between when their friends look at their public sites for social reasons and when their parents look at their public sites to wield control over them (24). This is an important distinction because most youth would argue that they should have privacy from their parents on these sites because their friends do not hold that kind of control over them. On the other hand, Alex is upset by her mother’s creation of a Facebook profile because she does not want her to post old family pictures that her friends will be able to see. This clearly echoes Willett’s article again since Alex seems to be asserting a level of control over her use of social networking sites that her mother will be impeding (294). Alex seems to imply that her profile is perfectly managed, but once her mother logs on she will lose the agency she once had in choosing the content on her profile (294).

Ultimately, I think the show presents the use of  social networking sites as a youthful endeavor. Throughout the episode, the daughters appear in control and understand the technology much more than their mother does. In fact, in the end it is Claire who is upset that they have now accepted her friend request since someone has tagged her in an old spring break picture that her children can now see. Claire’s anger seems to speak to the discourse that social networking sites are for the younger generation and the older generation will merely be confused or annoyed by what they find on these sites.

Your kid won’t Let you Go Through her phone? Lock her in a dungeon!

                In my search for an article relating to this week’s topic of youth social media use, I stumbled across this website that I think really speaks to the way parents think of their children: keepyourchildoutofjail.com. Yes, keepyourchildoutofjail.com.  This website contains advice for parents on aspects of (obviously) every teenager’s life including what to do when your teen joins a gang and starts abusing over the counter drugs.  The newest topic that this website has been addressing is the very issue of sexting.  I suppose sexting is becoming somewhat prevalent in high schools around the country, and the blame is being placed almost entirely on teenage girls.

                In her article, “Do Teenage Girls Drive the Sexting Culture,”  Keep Your Child Out Of Jail contributor, Chrisena Coleman displays a belief that sexting is a problem that stems from the promiscuity of young girls.  Throughout this article, there are numerous interviews with girls of the age in question, an interview with a gentleman who gets these pornographic images from girls in his school, and an interview with a mom and parenting expert.  These interviews are used to frame Coleman’s argument that young girls are the cause of this problem; that they victimize themselves and are helping the sexting epidemic spread.  Denene Millner, founder of MyBrownBaby.com,indicates that parents need to help their daughters realize that this kind of promiscuity is not okay.  That is why she is already talking to her eight and eleven-year-old daughters about it.  Ross Porter, Government and Justice Principal for Bronx School of Law and mother to a tween, speaks along similar lines as Millner.  She believes that teens and tweens are not capable of making their own decisions, so parents need to guide them.  She even goes as far as to say that if your daughter will not give up her cell phone and Facebook password, you should “pull the plug on everything.”

                These women do not give teen girls enough credit.  Perhaps it is not socially acceptable for a 16-year-old girl to be taking risqué pictures of herself at all, but who is to say when she is ready to share herself sexually with her boyfriend?  It is perfectly fine if adults want to send explicit photos of themselves to their significant others because they are seen as mature individuals capable of making good decisions, and teens are too hormonal for things like that.  Teenagers mature at all different rates, and as Amy Hasinoff points out in her article, “Sexting as Media Production: Rethinking Dominant Ideas about Teen Girls and Sexuality Online,” perhaps the girls are not the only ones at fault.  In fact, Hasinoff goes as far as to say that taking away the right to do what one wishes with her sexuality can take away a girl’s sense of voice in a relationship.  Nobody, however, chooses to look at the boys.  In the article for Keep Your Child out of Jail, Chesena Coleman is trying to show that girls are at fault when she interviews sixteen-year-old DeWayne who states that girls just come up to him, get his cell phone number, and start sending him naked pictures.  Regardless of whether or not he has actually received “hundreds of sexting pictures,” he still asserts that girls need to be careful because they never know where their pictures might end up.  This is exactly the problem the Hasinoff looks at.  If a girl sent her boyfriend a picture of herself and he kept it to himself, what harm is done?  Perhaps the boys need to be taken into consideration for the distribution of this so-called child pornography.  It is easy to point to the girls who feel pressure from their peers to act a certain way, but instead of stifling the self-expression of our daughters, maybe we should have a conversation about respect with our sons.

There is a very extensive social discourse surrounding the way that teen girls use social media or technology to portray themselves in a certain light, which is almost always seen as negative.  Coleman’s article, along with most news stories brings up sexting as if it is a very common epidemic; as if all teens do this on a day to day basis.  The fact is, however, that a very small amount of teens are actually participating.  Maybe the media and parents feeling the need to inform their children about how not to act is where these girls and boys even come up with such an idea.  Personally, I didn’t know of this as a problem in my high school, nor do I know of this as an issue among any of my friends.  Sexting has been taken out of context, placed the female party at fault only, and has been blown up to seem like much more prevalent than it is.  I think talking to children about acting in appropriate ways is very important, but do I think that speaking to an 8-year-old about not taking naked pictures of herself is necessary? No.

Don’t Talk to Strangers…Talk to Your Children!

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.”

How should we talk about Social Media’s Effects on Teens?

During this past week, Huffington Post, the online newspaper, posted an article entitled, “Social Media Makes Teens Aware Of Others’ Needs, Study Says”.  According to this study conducted by Harris Interactive 55 percent of teens (13-17) said that Facebook and Twitter “opened their eyes to what others are experiencing”. Furthermore, in this same study 91 percent “felt it was important to volunteer in the community”. In addition, 68 percent of the same teens surveyed agreed that “the benefits of social media outweigh the risks of being on these sites”. After listing all of the collected data, the article continues by informing the reader that many non-profit organizations have even recognized this trend and are now using their social networking site profiles to raise awareness and garner support for their causes. The article even goes on to share the story of a user of the popular site, Reddit, who was able to raise money for a bone marrow transplant for his girlfriend’s nephew through this online community.

After reading Baym’s book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, it is easier to interpret the information presented within the article. This article is clearly supporting a technological determinist perspective of social media. This framing can instantly be seen in the title, which emphasizes that it is social media making teens more aware of their peers rather than teens using social networking sites to be more aware of what is going on among their peers. The problem with framing the article in a technological determinist perspective is that teens using these social networking sites are given no power, they are seen as merely being affected by the technology. In addition, by framing the article in this way the technology is taken out of any kind of social context. For anyone to truly understand the technology and its users we need the context for both. This article also seems to have domesticated social media with the use of the word “liking”. The beginning of the article mentions “liking” without explaining what this word functions as and which social media this function is attached to. There are probably many people, who do not use Facebook, that would not have understood the reference.

Although the article presents its information about social media in this technological determinist perspective there are other ways to frame the story. For one they could have framed technology using a social construction perspective, by showing how the creation of social media was a response to teens who wanted to become more aware of their peers and were interested in volunteering. Based on what I have learned so far from this class, I think that the best way to frame this article would have been by using the social shaping perspective. Through a social shaping perspective, the interaction between technological possibilities and social dynamics can be met and a better evaluation of the technology can take place. The Huffington Post could have talked about this study in a way that highlighted the technological affordances of social networking sites, specifically that they provide us with a way to communicate more efficiently and keep in touch with people we know, while at the same time emphasizing that we as a society find these site useful because we always try to find new ways to communicate and learn about others.

After this week’s classes and the study of perspectives, it was interesting to compare how this article framed technology and how the documentary Life 2.0 framed technology. This documentary showcased the lives of several users of the popular Second Life virtual game. The documentary illustrated various negative effects of this technology on the users such as divorce, theft, and addiction. In comparison, this article illustrated positive effects of technology, including increased awareness and volunteering among teens. Also, Life 2.0 showed the users of the Second Life virtual game as being extremely cut-off and distant from the rest of the world while this article details how technology has actually made people more involved with charities and aware of the people around them. Instead of being distant as the Second Life users were depicted, teens, according to this study, have become more likely to connect and want to help others through the use of social media. While overall the article seems to be promoting social media’s positive effects, there was one line that mentioned the risks of social networking sites. Just as in the documentary, it seems to be an assumed fact that there will always be risk when using any type of social media. Hopefully, one day this assumption can be erased and a more balanced discussion of social media technology can occur.

You Are The Social Network You Keep

Caught in the Web” by Hilary Stout is a timely New York Times article on the role and consequences of online representations, “Friends” (boyd 2006) and “public displays of connections“. (Donath and boyd 2004) It details how content, including Friends, on the Facebook pages of various people was a major player in life-altering decisions. It gives the example of a single mother of a teenage girl who applied for the purchase of a co-op. The board was skeptical about the sale because it was a one-bedroom apartment. However, after some profile scavenging, they found endearing Facebook photos of their travels together, what gave the go ahead and sealed the deal. So was the case for a couple with a 16-year-old son looking to rent a vacation apartment. The boys Facebook profile was the deal maker – he was a socially conscience entrepreneur. The article explains how real estate brokers, landlords, and co-op boards are now turning to social network sites as supplements to disclosure forms and background checks. The reason being that it provides a more intimate understanding of the personal applying for residence. What’s more, some brokers are going beyond the surface information found on Google and on profiles to look at the “mutual friends” listed in their networks. “Mr. Goldschmidt [senior vice president of the Warburg Marketing Group of Warburg Realty] says board members sometimes call those mutual friends and ask for their impressions of the applicant. (He said he would not, however, ask a mutual friend to sneak him onto another person’s page.)”. (Stout)

This article prove that your social network does in fact add, or take away, to the construction of your identity. The parents in this article could not have guessed that their children’s online persona would have been a deciding factor in the monetary transaction between adults. What’s more, the display of our connections on our “Top Friends” are not the only things that contribute to the creation of our image – photos and comments with and from our connections are also looked at and considered carefully. It’s interesting to note, also, that while boyd and Donath’s theories help us understand how we get to  know people, so to speak, through their online connections, in the cases presented in this article, it goes well beyond that. We can create meaning about a person through that person’s relationships, even if that person doesn’t have a public list of friends  or a profile, as was with the parents in Stout’s article.

In these examples the final results were positive; however, Stout gives six, well-balanced examples in total. Two searches were negative, revealing a bribing knifeman and a party monsters; the last two were lukewarm, showcasing two tenants with mirky pasts but believable alibis – they were still accepted by the boards which they applied to. She also includes a range of reasonable real estate brokers and landlords that seem to understand social media well and that make social networks still seem like a safe and uninhibited place to display your personality, be it through text or connections. “Information gleaned from Facebook, blogs or other Internet postings “is not pure data,” said Beth Markowitz, the president of Merlot Management, a company that manages about 32 co-ops and condominiums throughoutManhattan. Therefore, she said, it is not necessarily “true, accurate or unbiased.” (Stout)

Still, though, it’s hard not to think of Facebook and your Friends list like a resume, especially after a title like the one on this article. It also closes with the cautionary story of the broker/owener who found that her potentioal tenant had been arrested for threatening to cut off another man’s hands and genitalia if he didn’t give him $200,000; and the closing quote was of the broker declaring that he was denied. She could have ended the article by speaking of “online intelligence” as mentioned earlier in the article or of such firms as Your Net Coach that teach real estate firms to use the internet wisely and to their company’s advantage.

It’s Not Official Unless it’s on Facebook.

Watching Life 2.0 reminded me of many simulation games that I have played and experienced including: Neopets, Sims, Counter Strike, WOW, etc. There are many platforms that allow relationships, similar to the ones discussed in Second Life, to develop. It is very easy to get caught up in these virtual worlds and become part of the communities surrounding it. This is especially true if it is a game because it allows players to freely express themselves and their imagination without boundaries. We began discussing in class the perspectives the director uses to portray the people in the film. One of the biggest flaws is the over dramatization of the situations presented. The most dramatized situation was the love story of Amy and Steven, where they are the narrators of their story. They are shown within Second Life as their avatars and we see their fantastical relationship developed through their imaginations. Throughout class, many were laughing and found their relationship to be humorous. Amy is often portrayed as giggling and a little ditzy and Steven is slow and easygoing, it is a very surreal love that the audience witnesses. We also find their adjustments to their relationship in the real world to be funny and we could infer that they would not work out. Although it seems that the director may be exploiting their emotions, I think it is important in showing how emotionally attached one cam become. It solidifies the realness of the situation that is being portrayed.

The article I have chosen is from USA Today, “Social media can both help and hurt real-life relationships”, by psychotherapist Stacy Kaiser. She writes about different aspects of relationships that could be tarnished by social media. The article is humorous and I don’t know if it should be taken seriously. However, it is clear that she believes that social media, specifically, Facebook, is an important part of a relationship. She gives the example of “full disclosure” where your partner should publicly display your relationship in their social network. Basically her article redefines relationships and integrates them into social networking. Kaiser understands the growing importance of establishing not only individual identities but making connections between couples in real life into couples online. She also suggests that social media can hinder trust issues between partners. I think it is true that social media is an individual and personal thing that we do. We have discussed in class the different personalities and identities we take on while networking. She suggests freely opening up e-mails, texts, and even Facebook, so there is no privacy between partners. She takes a very open approach to relationship problems, and although she understands the importance of social media, I don’t think she understands the importance of how singular social networking is. I would say it has a lot to do with the fact that she is a woman so her solutions to the problems she poses are a little skewed.

I think both situations focus strongly on the emotional aspects of interpersonal relationships and social media. Not only are couples connected in the virtual world or networking sites but their bond has more at stake. They have real commitments, they see each other in real life, and their virtual connections are more emotional with each other than they would have with other people. Is there a rising importance in establishing relationships in social media? I would assume so because social networking platforms often reflect real connections and situations. You can’t be married in real life and still single online; it needs to be parallel. Unless there is a motive for your online identity to be single.