The common praise given to the Internet: anyone can express their voice to millions of potential users, readers and listeners.
Many children and teenagers have embraced this.
A recent report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project says that as many as 73 percent of teens and 72 percent of young adults use social networking. That translates a huge number of people that are telling their stories online.
Your Story in Front of Millions
Millions of words and thoughts become digitized and available for anyone to read. But do teens and young adults realize the possible consequences of pumping out content.
In his book, The Future of Reputation, Daniel J. Solove recounts several stories about people who dealt with privacy issues after placing parts of their lives online. The book could serve as a wakeup call to anyone, not just teens and young adults.
Take this example, for instance, as reported by Wired in 2009. A college student ranted on her MySpace page about how she hated her hometown. The high school principal in town forwarded her diatribe to the local newspaper.
People read it and it caused an uproar. The family received death threats. The student’s daughter had to close down his business, one that he had run for 20 years.
A California court ruled that the student could not claim an invasion of privacy after her words were published in the newspaper without her permission. Essentially, what she wrote on MySpace had become public record.
Lead with Common Sense
One has to think this should have been common sense. MySpace is a website that can be accessed by anyone in the world, and unless the student’s profile was set to private, viewed by anyone.
I can’t help but think there’s a real need for a new media education for teens and young adults, and maybe even older adults who engage in blogging, social networking and other online activities.
So what are the most important areas worth teaching?
How about writing. The popular Copyblogger blog takes on writing for social media from a marketing standpoint, but anyone can apply some of the good writing and storytelling tips there.
And we can’t forget privacy. The non-profit organization, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has a nice page about navigating the Internet safely.
These two areas seem to be the most important to me. If people write more clearly, there’s less of a chance of meaningless misunderstandings. And if they begin to understand how their privacy can be affected by the Internet, they’ll likely make fewer Internet-inspired mistakes.
All this could be the start of clearer personal stories on the web.
Image by Randy Fath.
Note: This post is a short assignment for my class in Contemporary Media Issues about the Internet and privacy issues.