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MySafety: Teen Privacy on MySpace

In the era of social networks, many media outlets have focused on issues of privacy and it is not uncommon to hear older adults aghast at what kids or younger adults like myself make available as public information. Kids are putting there sexual orientation out there for anyone to see, posting every up and down in their relationships, and showcasing pictures of drunken nights in places like MySpace and Facebook.

In the era of social networks, many media outlets have focused on issues of privacy and it is not uncommon to hear older adults aghast at what kids or younger adults like myself make available as public information. Kids are putting there sexual orientation out there for anyone to see, posting every up and down in their relationships, and showcasing pictures of drunken nights in places like MySpace and Facebook.

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I have been a member of Facebook since 2004 and recently caved to some friendly peer-pressure and joined the MySpace revolution. As someone who is so visible online I sometimes feel that the whole world can follow my every move. I often worry about what a potential employer might think or if some creepy person is checking me out without my knowledge. It makes me feel safer to know that these sites have given me the resources to only let certain people become part of my cyber life. (Although I find Facebook’s privacy settings a little more secure than MySpace). While I do put a lot of personal information on these sites, I think I’ve been careful not to post anything I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my mom viewing (the ultimate test of decency in my eyes).

The Pew Research Center has been concerned about the same issues and released a study this week from the Pew Internet and American Life Project that focuses on what teens are doing to protect their privacy in the Internet world and if they even consider things like privacy as they pimp out pages on MySpace with the latest design or widget.

The study shows that while teens are more transparent than previous generations have been about their personal lives in the public arena, they are (for the most part) taking some precautions to shield themselves from the dangers that can lurk on the world wide web.

According to Pew, 55% of online teens have a profile on a social network and 82% of those kids have put their first name in their profile. First names tell so little about a person, but a picture is worth a thousand words and 79% of online teens are including pictures on their profiles. Teens are being careful and there aren’t very many of them who put their personal contact info out there for the world. Most kids, it seems, are wise enough to keep their online worlds, exactly that, online, with little or no way to reach them in the real world. Not many teens have included personal indicators like last names (29%), cell phone numbers (2%), or emails addresses (29%).

“Our survey suggests that there are a wide range of views among teens about privacy and disclosure of personal information. Whether in an online or offline context, teenagers do not fall neatly into clear-cut groups when it comes to their willingness to disclose information or the ways they restrict access to the information that they do share. For most teens, decisions about privacy and disclosure depend on the nature of the encounter and their own personal circumstances. . .Many, but not all, teens are aware of the risks of putting information online in a public and durable environment. Many, but certainly not all, teens make thoughtful choices about what to share in what context.”

So it seems, the adults of this world have raised us right, MySpacers are enjoying the full benefits of the online social scene and keeping in mind their parents’ advice that the world can sometimes be a dangerous place, even if that world is confined to a computer screen.