Youth, privacy and online media: Framing the right to privacy in public policy-making

by Gry Hasselbalch Lapenta, Rikke Frank Jørgensen

PUBLICATIONS: The right to privacy is a fundamental human right defined in international and regional human rights instruments. As such it has been included as a core component of key legislature and policy proceedings throughout the brief history of the World Wide Web. While it is generally recognized in public policy making that the right to privacy is challenged in new ways in a structurally transformed online public sphere, the way in which it has been framed does not seem to acknowledge this transformation.

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AWARENESS RAISING: “Every day we leave huge amounts of digital footprints on the internet. We can’t prevent all of the footprints in being collected. But we can control many of the traces if we know the right tools. In this movie two teenagers investigate their own digital identity and learn how to control their digital footprints.”

I took part in this film made by Danish Save the Children Denmark in 2014 as one of the “experts”. The film is in Danish but with English subtitles. Watch it with your kids!

Study of Youth, Privacy and Social Media: Facebook is a precondition for social participation

PUBLICATIONS: In 2013 the think tank Digital Youth conducted a study among Danish youth in 11 focus groups to explore their strategies to control their privacy on social media.

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The Focus Group Survey 2013: Youth’s Public and Private Lives on Social Media

To assert control over the flow of images, personal content and social contexts is essential to young people when using social media. The Danish think tank Digital Youth published the report Youth’s Public and Private Lives on Social Media in November 2013. The report was based on interviews with young people about their strategies to preserve privacy as well as knowledge about data collection, surveillance, data protection and digital foot prints.

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The 21%: Parents, youth and “surveillance”

The recent survey “Teens, Privacy and Social Media” is an interesting survey for many reasons. Here’s one more. Parents were asked if they had ever “surveilled” their children without their knowledge.  21% answered yes;  a result, which enticed a heavy debate in Danish media about parents control of their children’s online life via e.g. their Facebook profiles (see some of the debates here/links at the bottom).

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“Social Privacy”: Privacy as a social norm in a new form

Privacy is still a social norm – in one form or another – but for sure the way in which we administer our privacy in the open networks has transformed.  When we stop being able to control our privacy with “physical borders”, we start policing them with other forms of limits – social and cultural. Borders that are more invisible; tied up with shared values and social rules – but nonetheless relevant to be able to interpret and administer. This new container of privacy is emerging steadily alongside the development of the open networks.  Its more “silent” in the sense that if you need to understand how it works, you need to look at other things than e.g. people’s use of their “privacy settings” or whether they choose to be on Facebook or not. Because this is a different form of privacy administration that does not take point of departure in the actual architecture of the various services.

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The clash




Molding tomorrow’s citizens into aware and empowered digital citizens should be an easy task. We’ve done it for centuries -raising children to become empowered in the society of tomorrow, that is. But there is a tiny problem though. In this very moment in the history of man, the velocity of technological development has been unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like it. And we are a little bit stunned.

The point is that our everyday life is digital, so we need to be digital ourselves. The easiest thing I could do right now would be to blame the digital generational gap between children and their adults, point a big fat finger at the adults and say “Get used to it and educate!”It would be so easy. But of course I cannot do that.

In Denmark we do have a rather strong political focus on our role as participants in a globalized network society. Though, a recent survey evaluating ICTs in the Danish school made by the Danish evaluation institute EVA in corporation with the Danish Ministry of Education recently showed that teachers still need more training, that ICT is present in the school, but not functioning, that ICTs are not integrated well enough in the actual subjects, that knowledge sharing systems are primarily used for administrative purposes and that individual ICT initiatives were not supported sufficiently by the school management. These are some of the factors that influence the way in which we bring up kids to become functional empowered citizens of tomorrow.

But there are also the cultural and social factors. And what I see in the classrooms is a conflict between two sets of everyday meanings and practices (that is to say: two different cultures) that clash when students -that have grown up with digital media as natural elements of their everyday lives – and teachers -that have grown up in a completely different media environment – meet in the classroom.

The Phone Booth – an image of old media use

From the stuffiness of the cinema and phone booth to the open networks of YouTube and mobiles: While one generation grew up using media in closed spaces, another generation is right now growing up acting and thinking in open networks. How do we, the adults, understand and, just as importantly, speak to the first generation of the network society?

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