The decision of Duke University graduate Karen Owens to write a “mock” thesis, in which she analyzed the sexual performance of 13 student-athletes with whom she shared a sexual encounter, reveals poor decision-making, a lack of awareness of the viral nature of the Internet, and a failure to understand privacy.
In an article in the New York Times, Duke University student body president Mike Lefevre captures how confusing the issue of privacy is, as he explains his reaction to the decision of Karen Owens to post: “Should we be more worried about the young woman’s privacy or worry about the individuals who were named? It’s not so clear to us who was the victim, and who we should reach out to.”
The Duke incident comes on the heels of the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University student who jumped to his death off of the George Washington Bridge, as a result of his private life being exposed through Twitter and Facebook.
There are growing concerns about privacy and whether young people (teens, college students, recent college graduates) understand the implications and repercussions of privacy. These two recent events signal the need for serious work to be done in homes and schools.
“All the world’s a stage in the Internet age. This is just the latest of a long list of examples of how things that are often meant for small, private audiences have innumerable opportunities to become public events, because once they have left the creators’ screen, they can be shared, forwarded and posted.”
Common Sense Media, a national non-profit based in San Francisco, just released a study about privacy, as part of its “Protect Our Privacy – Protect Our Kids” campaign.
Key findings include:
75% of parents said they would “rate the job that social networks are doing to protect children’s online privacy as negative” and,
“92 percent of parents are concerned that kids share too much information online, and 85 percent of parents say they’re more concerned about online privacy than they were five years ago.”
It’s not the job of social networks to protect privacy, it’s the job of parents and schools to make sure kids understand the “public by default” nature of posting and sharing online. Kids do share online, but, as Microsoft researcher danah boyd has documented, kids are more concerned about privacy than we might think.
Parents should be plugged in to privacy concerns, but the question is what are they to do about it. Waiting until high school or late middle school is too late to initiate conversations about privacy. These dialogues should start in elementary school so privacy discussions become part of the home. Like with sex education, the last thing parents want is for someone else to be the first to have “the talk” with their kids.
Moments arise all the time to chip away at helping kids understand and think about privacy. Yes, it would be great if social networking companies got on board in thinking about kids and privacy, but it is the hard work of parents and schools to make sure a culture of open discussion and education exists. Parents and schools can’t let their kids go underground.