The Privacy Unit is designed to encourage young people to reflect on the opportunities and risks associated with the capacity to share information with vast audiences on the Internet. A strong emphasis is placed on the responsibility to consider potential effects on oneself and on others of disclosure and concealment of information online. Traditional notions of privacy are being challenged by new media environments in which youth heavily engage. Online social networks, forums, and blogs provide rich opportunities to network, communicate, and share information with vast audiences.
There are both promises and risks for young people associated with these opportunities. By creating a profile and sharing at least some personal information online, a young person can participate in small, private online communities or large, public networks. Youth who lack offline supports may turn to online forums and communities. In these contexts, participants can post anonymously in order to protect their identities as they share sensitive information, obtain needed support, or give support to others.
At the same time, disclosing information online can be harmful to youth if they fail to consider the ways in which the information they share about themselves and others could be used. Danah Boyd describes four properties of online environments that suggest the need for caution. These properties include the persistence, searchability, and replicability of information posted online, and the presence of invisible audiences.1 Given these properties, the everyday decisions young people make regarding what to disclose, to whom, and how, become urgently important. Youth need to be in the habit of reflecting on the potential consequences, for themselves and for others, of such decisions.
• What are the boundaries of sharing information about oneself and others online?
• What are the potential benefits of being able to share information online? What are the potential harms—to yourself and to others?
• In what circumstances can concealment of personal information—and anonymity—be beneficial versus harmful?
1 Boyd, Danah.(2007). Why youth (heart) social networking sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. In D. Buckingham, (Ed.), Youth,’identity’and’digital’media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Unit Lesson Overview
Facebook for all, What is Private?
Trillion Dollar Footprint/Digital Footprint
What Info Can Websites Gain About You When Visiting Them?
Protecting Your Personal Information