Social Networking: The Digital Identity Part 2

Posted on June 5, 2012

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As promised in the last post, I interviewed two students on their viewpoints on posting too much information online. I intentionally asked a “popular” student who continuously uploads pictures of himself drinking and smoking. Then I asked an ordinary student who does not have any inappropriate posts on their face book page.

Popular Student

Me: “Why do teenagers post pictures of themselves drinking and smoking on face book knowing any one can see it and that it can harm their future?”

Student: “Because it’s all about the social competition places on high school students. It’s all apart of being an American teenag  er and the need to seem on top. If you drink one beer and throw up your light weight. If you drink a whole bottle of vodka you have swag. It’s all about social status.”

Me: Do you feel like you post too much information online?

Student:” Lol uh no? It’s not like I’m posting nude photos I think people are just overreacting”

Ordinary Student

Me: “Why do teenagers post pictures of themselves drinking and smoking on face book knowing any one can see it and that it can harm their future?”

Student 2: “I think they do it because they want attention and they want to appear as being cool and popular. They feel it’s a sense of pride in themselves for doing something that others are to “lame” to do.  If they were mature they would realize how stupid they are being and that it can really devastate their future.”

 

Me: Do you feel like you post too much information online?

Student 2: Nope I know that colleges and job opportunities sometimes check it out and see what you do. You don’t want them to see you doing stupid stuff. I don’t put my business out there; once something is online it can never come off. The internet is written in ink and not pencil.

Both responses from each student include the extreme extent teenagers go to in order to feel socially accepted. Teenagers engage in careless behavior online just to maintain their social position. In doing so, they become denial to the fact that anyone can view their photos online: teachers, parents, or future colleges. The popular student I interviewed is in denial because he fails to acknowledge that his irresponsible actions can devastate his future. However the student who did not engage in this risky behavior openly accepts that if you do choose to post inappropriate contents online there are consequences.

The need to be accepted brings forth another reason for why teenagers post too much information online, conformity. Without realizing it, teenagers conform every day to the simplest things: clothing, music, and values. The need for conformity is the desire to go along with the norms of a group of people, so you will be accepted as an in-group person and not rejected as an out-group person. Take a Facebook profile picture for example, if a large group of girls rate a picture as being unattractive even if someone thought that the picture was in fact attractive, the person would most likely conform to the group and also describe the picture as being unattractive. Our reasons for conformity go with our teenage need to be a part of a group. We follow the same fashion trends and lose our own sense of identity just so we can fit in with the rest of the crowd. Conformity is seen throughout American culture through the media in movies such as Mean Girls in which a popular clique in high school get a innocent new girl to conform to their mean ways.

Some even argue that instead of seeking independence in our teenage years we actually are looking for an identity and a sense of belongingness. This is one of the reasons for why high school is filled with various cliques. It is adults who as a result seek independence after they find their place in the world. Conforming to a group is a natural thing. Sometimes however, conforming to the in-group when it goes against your moral can lead you in trouble. For example, if a group of students are taunting and threatening a student or teacher online and you conform knowing that it is wrong, you will be punished.  This tragic case happens every day and as a consequence students are getting suspended, expelled, and loosing out on scholarships and jobs. I remember last year in my AP U.S. History class two student had made a facebook group taunting our teacher. The students would post daily about how much unfair the teacher was and mock him. The students knew the teacher had a facebook, but this did not stop them from creating their group. It did not also stop their friends from conforming. Other students from my class joined the group and also posted comments about the teacher. At a time I also was a part of the group, but left it right before my teacher discovered it. The two creators were suspended for 5 days each and as for my teacher, he was deeply hurt. Not only did the students suffer the consequence of making the group, they also lost a lot of respect from the teachers at my school. Other examples are as following:

  • FourSyracuseUniversitystudents were punished for trashing their teacher on Face book and were put on probation as a result. They used violent language to deride teaching assistant Rachel Collins. The page was called “Clearly Rachel Doesn’t Know What She’s Doing . . . EVER,”.
  • One of the students punished said “ We all just kind of laughed at it. . . . I basically wanted to be part of the group. . . . I should have been, ‘This is mean and cruel and immature,’ and I should have gotten out of it,”
  • AtLincolnEastHigh SchoolinNebraskaadministrators suspended seven male basketball players for two weeks over blog entries that mentioned drinking alcohol, according to a Feb. 12 article in the Omaha World-Herald. 
  • AtNorthernKentuckyUniversityandNorth CarolinaStateUniversity, campus police charged students with violations after finding photos of them drinking alcohol, according to the World-Herald article. 

All of the following problems could have been avoided if the students took more precautions when it came to social networking. This brings us to my final reason for why teenagers post too much information online, a false sense of security. Just because facebook has privacy setting doesn’t mean you are guaranteed safety. From a personal experience, I recently discovered that my number was on Facebook for the public to see without me knowing. I tried to take my number off but some how it leaked back on. I reached my limit when I received a mysterious phone call from a male who went on my page and got my number. I did not know who the person was and felt that my privacy was violated. If Facebook was revealing my number today what would it reveal next?

 

After this experience I constantly check my privacy settings to make sure that only my friends can see my information. Many people are not aware that Facebook is constantly changing its privacy settings. In my opinion, the new privacy settings are more difficult to work with than before. At first, you were able to see how someone would view your profile by typing in their name on the privacy setting bar. However now that is not the case. With the new Facebook, you are only limited to three options: Friends of Friends, Friends, and Custom. I do not like the terms “friends of friends” and it might as well be called “everyone”. Custom is also tricky because only the people you list will be blocked from your profile page but what about the people you don’t list?

 On twitter, people also have the option of allowing only those who they follow to see their tweets. However 80% of my followers’ tweets are “unblocked” meaning anyone can see them. Why don’t people block their tweets? One of the goals on twitter is to get your followers to “retweet” your tweets, so that their followers can see it. If your tweet gets retweeted, that means that someone agrees with it or likes what you posted. If your tweets are private, people cannot retweet your tweets because only YOUR followers can see them. So because of this, most users on twitter basically do not have any limits on privacy. Although it seems that on social sites we have the power to protect ourselves and the contents that we display to the general public, it still can’t be trusted. Twitter and Facebook provide options regarding privacy but nothing is as safe as being socially conscious.

– Danielle Mensah

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