Documentary coverage of IGF-USA by the Imagining the Internet Center

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Internet Governance Forum-USA, 2011 Youth Roundtable: Digital Natives? Mythbusting Assumptions

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Brief description:

According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project more than 93 percent of teens (ages 12-17) and young adults (18-29) are currently online. Many Internet governance debates are held in the name of youth and many Internet policy decisions are made to guard or guide the young. But what do we really know about how young people use the Internet and what impacts it may have on them? What are the common claims about the influence of the Internet on children and young adults that fuel the Internet governance debate? How do young people really use new communications technologies and what issues do they see as most important? This roundtable explored some of the common myths about young people and the Internet, bringing together a group of college-aged participants from several U.S. universities to engage in a peer-moderated discussion.

Details of the session:

What do you know about how young people use the technology tools available online? Moderators Colin Donohue, a journalism instructor and student media adviser from Elon University, and Ali Hamed, from Cornell University led a guided discussion with a roundtable of panelists and forum attendees about this point and more at IGF-USA at Georgetown University July 18.

The young people who participated in the roundtable were:

  • Ronda Ataalla, 19, rising junior at Elon University
  • Kellye Coleman, 21, rising senior at Elon University
  • William O’Connor, rising senior at Georgetown University
  • Chelsea Rowe, rising sophomore at Cornell University
  • Jeff Stern, 19, rising sophomore at Elon University
  • Kristen Steves, Cornell University student, blogger for End Slavery Now
  • Nick Troiano, rising senior at Georgetown University
  • William Vogt, rising senior at Georgetown University

Their discussion and the title of the workshop stem from a number characteristics often assumed by the public about youth online that have been contradicted by research, including:

– All young people are highly active users of the Internet.
– Young people don’t care about their privacy.
– The Internet is a dangerous, dangerous place.
– All teens are naturally tech-savvy and adept at creating online content – “digital natives.”
– The virtual world of online communications is isolating young people.
– Social media leads kids to be deceptive.
– Social media is addictive to everyone who uses it regularly.
– The Internet is the great equalizer.

The Youth Roundtable discussed privacy, which generated conversations about the youth’s behavior on the Internet, how the youth online define friendships and to what extent privacy issues should be incorporated into education.

The panelists agreed that the youth value privacy, but have different views concerning what content is private or deserving of privacy.

“It’s not about knowing (about privacy),” O’Connor said. “It’s about younger generations’ values about what’s private and what’s public is different.”

JULY 18, 2011 - William O'Connor from Georgetown University (right) discusses the way online choices are affected by personal values during the Digital Natives Panel at the Internet Governance Forum USA 2011.

He discussed how he criticized his younger sibling’s activity online but acknowledged his parents’ similar sentiments about his own use of the Internet.

Vogt, Ataalla and O’Connor agreed that they are aware of, and content with, public access to content that is willingly posted.

“I think privacy is the wrong word for things that are public on Facebook,” O’Connor said.

The students argued against the myth that the youth are not aware of one’s own privacy. Those on the panel explained the benefits of sharing information, and Ataalla said her professors at Elon University encourage students to keep Twitter accounts public in order to attract employers.

Private social media accounts indicate you have something to hide, she said.

When youth expect privacy

Hamed asked the panel if there is a different level of thinking regarding something willingly posted on a social network site compared to information protected by a password.

Although the panelists agreed that they value technical privacy, they also agreed that “digital natives” are more likely to trust that corporations will protect their information.

“I guess maybe I’m a little too trusting,” Steves said. “I’m skeptical, but Google, for instance, I would look at the ratings and assume that maybe because everyone uses it I’ll be safe, but that may not necessarily be the case.”

Troiano said he believed it was in the company’s interest to protect the consumers’ information, which makes him assume a successful company is trustworthy.

On the other hand, Stern explained that when FireFox stores a user’s password, anyone that uses that computer has access to that information.

“It’s just something to think about,” he said.

The conversation suggested it is not that the youth do not value privacy, but rather that they distinguish between value-based privacy and technical privacy.

“We don’t understand this idea of privacy, the whole idea of data protection never crosses many of our minds,” Coleman said.

Nevertheless, Troiano said that he was not concerned with information released to advertisement companies because that transaction improves the lives of the users.

JULY 18, 2001 -- Will Vogt participates in "Digital Natives: Myth-busting about Youth in the Online World"

“I don’t think that’s an invasion of our privacy. I think that’s the efficiency of the Web,” Troiano said.

Cautionary relationships on the Web

While those on the panel admitted to trusting seemingly popular companies on the Internet, they expressed more skepticism concerning Facebook friend requests, Twitter followers and other more personal interactions online.

When receiving a request from a Twitter follower, Ataalla referenced Facebook to confirm the individual’s existence and questioned mutual friends to verify the person’s intentions.

Mutual friends and photographs help determine whether it is safe to accept someone’s request, Troiano said.

“We don’t get credit for thinking these things through,” Rowe said.

Although the panelists’ caution regarding relationships online counters the myth that youth are susceptible to dangers on the Internet, O’Connor identified meeting new people as one of the benefits of the Web. Coleman uses social media as a way to contact those interested in similar topics. She uses Twitter to find experts in journalism, her field of study.

“I have learned so much from the people I follow on Twitter, and reading articles and blogs and even having conversations with them,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to kind of learn from, not only experts, but also peers and have discussions with them about different things through those social networks.”

Hamed asked the panelists if social networks invite new connections or solidify the network users already belong to.

“It’s both isolating and opening,” Vogt said.

O’Connor first used social networks to maintain relationships with classmates he met at boarding school, he said. But he also said those same networks can create homogenous lifestyles and choices.

“There can be a discussion abut some of the things that are lost when surrounding yourself with people only like you,” he said.

How to communicate proper online behavior

Hamed asked the panelists if they believe the youth should be educated about proper online behavior.

Although some advocated formal education, others thought the Internet is simply life expressed in a new platform. In other words, the same values you learn that guide you in your everyday life are applicable, in some ways, to how you interact online.

“You can apply the same values you have in life (to the Internet),” O’Connor said.

For example, children are taught not to talk to strangers. Well, that concept is applicable to the Web, too. New social networks continue to enable the Internet to mirror real life.

“Our parents had the luxury of having a life where they could separate friend life and church life and family life, but information we’re putting out all has one shared life,” Troiano said.

Facebook categorized parents and friends in the same network, so all had access to the same content and information. Security controls were buried in the network, causing youth online to hesitate becoming “friends” with their parents.

But now, circles on Google+ divide social groups online similarly to how social groups are divided in real life. These fragmentations also help youth control who sees what content, giving users greater control over privacy.

Who should control Internet security?

Hamed posed another question about who should inherit responsibility of controlling privacy online.

Troiano said he doubted whether the government would have the right answers concerning privacy, but believed that the market would regulate itself.

“There are bad things that happen, but the Internet, in its free form, can counteract those things,” Troiano said.

Filters communicate what is appropriate to access, Stern said, but Rowe argued there should be formal education to teach young people how to search and find credible resources on the Internet.

Nevertheless, education does not need to come from a formal setting. The youth online have the ability to standardize online behavior, Coleman said.

“We have an opportunity, as younger people, to be a part of educating, not only younger people, but our peers about these things,” she said.

– Melissa Kansky

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Response from Marc Rotenberg, EPIC, to Lee Rainie’s ‘What We Don’t Know About the Future of the Internet’

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marc_rotenbergMarc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center noted that he began working more than 15 years ago through a group called The Public Voice to promote positive decisions about the Internet – before the WSIS and IGF processes began – in order to get civil society involved in global decisions. “We felt it was important to have the voice of civil society in these discussions,” he said.

He joked that Lee Rainie’s talk was an unusual thing to see in Washington, D.C., because he admitted to the things he didn’t know about. Then he got serious. “Lee’s survey is particularly helpful, because it helps us understand both what we know about the Internet, people using the Internet, where the gaps – for example – exist in access to broadband –  and then on some of the more difficult questions, really what we don’t know yet. These are questions we need to ask and look more closely at, and that’s enormously helpful.” he said. “I am very glad Lee used the ‘P word,’ which is not ‘privacy,’ it is ‘paradox.’ Because, increasingly, as we look at issues related to Internet policy we see a lot of paradox.”

He noted the conflicting desires people have to share things while also maintaining privacy online. “Try to friend your kids on Facebook,” he joked, “and you will get an instant lesson on the ongoing value of privacy.

Even though people put out all of this personal information, they still feel that they want to exercise some control over it. They don’t have a view that, ‘Oh, gee, I’m a data exhibitionist – everyone come and take a look.’ Their view is much more like, ‘Here’s a photo of my friend from the party last week, you four guys gotta check this out.’ It’s this desire to want to exercise some control over digital identity that is actually framing many of the big debates that are happening today in the online world.  – Marc Rotenberg

He said when young people formed a protest group to dispute changes in Facebook’s terms of service it was a sign of their conflicted feelings. “To me, that was entirely a debate about privacy,” he said. “I don’t mean to go all Habermas on you, but this ability to negotiate public and private spaces is an essential part of the human condition and we’ve been doing it forever, from the village to the city to new communication networks to online communities  and I don’t think anything there has changed. I just think you’re seeing it presented in a new way.”

He said transparency of government should be accompanied by government respect for individuals’ privacy. “A second paradox is the relationship between privacy and transparency,” he noted, saying that governments should be making their work more transparent.

There’s no contradiction whatsoever between saying a government should be open and accountable for what it does and it still has to respect the privacy of the personal information it collects about its citizens about the information it collects about citizens. That’s one of the big challenges we face in the information age – not letting the desire to ensure that the accountability for decision-makers – which is critical for democratic institutions – become an excuse to reveal the private facts of individuals, which really don’t relate to the activities of government.  – Marc Rotenberg

He noted that there is a convergence of all of these concerns that leads to a need for a declaration of rights. “There has to be a discussion about a bill of rights for Internet users – we have to begin the discussion about protecting the fundamental rights and freedoms of people who go online,” he concluded. “It’s a overdue debate.”

-Janna Anderson, http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org

Response from Randy Gyllenhaal, Elon University, to Lee Rainie’s ‘What We Don’t Know About the Future of the Internet’

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randy_gyllenhaalRandy Gyllenhaal, the panel respondent representing young people, is a member of the documentary journalism crew reporting at IGF-USA for Imagining the Internet. He supplied the transcript of his contribution:

I’m no expert on the ins-and-outs of Internet politics, but I do fully understand my generation’s infatuation with being connected.

From the youngest age, we have understood what it means to be plugged in. We have grown up right alongside the Internet, more than any other generation… Instant messenger was introduce in middle school, MySpace came about in high school, YouTube and Facebook just in time for college…

I remember my first e-mail address, my first screen name, my first MySpace and my 4th MySpace.

But something Mr. Rainie said made me think… when Generation Y comes to power, how will we look at issues like copyright and information ownership?

As the Internet evolves and matures, we must evolve and mature with it – not something you’d expect to hear from a young person.  – Randy Gyllenhaal

It’s been ingrained in our heads that the Internet is free. Napster taught us that music can be free, CNN.com taught us that news can be free – we’ve never had to pick up a newspaper in our lives.

Even TV can be free… yesterday I told my roommate to watch the new episode of “House” on Hulu… he said he didn’t want to sit through 30 seconds of ads…and would watch it on Ninjavideo…a site that streams TV and movies illegally. 30 seconds, that’s how A-D-D we are… it’s too much to bear.

My generation must grow up, and start taking responsibility for such a powerful tool that is the Internet. Nothing is free. The current model is not sustainable. Maybe I understand this more because I plan on going into journalism…but I hope others my age feel this way as well.  – Gyllenhaal

We want more Internet. We want cloud computing, we want mobile everything, we want it now, we want it fast, and we want it free. But in the future, it can’t be free, can it?

Young people are totally in favor of expanding the Internet and creating more outlets for information. I just wonder if we’re willing to pay for it.

http://www.imaginingtheinternet.org