BC Privacy & Security Awareness Day – Social Media: How can I possibly protect my personally identifiable information?

by Jesse Miller, Mediated Reality

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With the increase of social media websites and mobile applications, the Internet introduces the use of online communications to a world of youth, adults, communities, and corporations creating a continuing archive of our everyday lives. Youth use social media to connect the events of their daily lives and in turn make the experience of identity formation a public series of documented photographs and online dialogue – this content can be viewed by friends, community members, employers, family, and various forms of media who may choose to optimise the content to facilitate front-page news.

The trends become dialogues about the impacts of online events and the value of online privacy is one where the majority of users, who have had a moment where they feel that privacy has been violated via social media, tend to reflect reactively compared to proactively as it applies to online sharing. Communications via social media become a juggling act as many users maintain multiple social media accounts on various platforms. Our dialogues as it applies to social media awareness focuses on the primary normative forms of online sharing and the websites and trends that become popular and widely known tend to be the platforms most discussed. With the frequency of negative online events heard via media and community dialogues, these platforms become the most feared by parents and educators when applied to how youth use mobile technology and social media sharing. The online sharing of mundane and seemingly benign events of a day (meals, a coffee break, new outfits etc.) the conversations around privacy should extend the necessity of social media sharing.

Many people would not invest an economic value into social media sharing – specifically to social media that involves trivial events. When surveyed, those users of social media who would not commit a dollar everyday to a social media platform to share “selfies” or pictures of food to a list of friends and followers tend to equate that the sharing of excessive personal information online may have larger end costs compared to a dollar a day. When prompting conversations about the value of privacy, especially with youth in mind, the conversation about values of privacy as it applies to online sharing can become a conflict for parents and teachers. If the same adults who wish to guard youth from over-sharing online are inclined to motivate youth to establish a value of privacy, the introduction of the values of appropriate and acceptable online sharing as it applies to schools, family, and the expectation of parents should be of primary concern.

In application to real life situations, many parents should consider equating real-life events to the mediated social media world – if an individual at a bus stop began to ask questions to your child, commenting on their appearance, or even asking to follow your child, what would reactions from parents be? As it applies to youth online, many have numerous unknown followers and connections where there is a constant threat to negative influence and guidance. These students willingly connect due to an inflated sense of value in allowing others to follow you – popularity is equated to the attention or number of likes and even with private content online, the ability for others to share your content via social media becomes an uncontrollable variable.

The value of privacy on social media should become a conversation with parents, educators, and community leaders with these leaders all playing roles in dialogues with youth – focusing on learning how to deal with the potential misuse of personal information. Our current response is complete with advocates, politicians, and groups vying to claim protection of children from predators, when over the past few years, we have seen a number of events where youth become their own worst enemies in over-sharing essentially targeting each other and distributing inappropriate content online sourced from their peer group.

Within Canada we are starting to see legal response where government and advocates tend to focus on the issue of predators and this focus distracts from the actual privacy issue as it applies to the online behaviours of youth on the Internet and the use and abuse of private information. As a society, we can address the social media issues related to teens and privacy but awareness is key to solving the larger problems. As parents, educators, and as users of social media ourselves, we need to be more proactive about educating each other and protecting our privacy on the Internet as it applies to sharing, with a focus of not resting our laurels on privacy settings alone.