In my post Online privacy and the cyberbaby-generation I addressed what I think is a distorted narrative when online sharing habits and privacy concerns are discussed. Despite the fastest adoption of social media happening among the older cohorts, a slew of studies and articles seem to limit their focus to young people’s internet habits. When grown ups distribute content, often intimate details of (unconsenting?) minors over a vast social media landscape, they are affecting another person’s online reputation. Even if most parents share less incriminating content about their kids than kids share about themselves, there is something profoundly different about falling victim to other people’s stupidity than to your own when regretful content is made public. If we overlook the “oversharenting” trend among our own parenting generation, we don’t only fail to notice the asymmetry between the generations (children don’t share content about parents as much as vice-versa, often because they are too young to join in the game), but we implicitly assume young people are less adept at protecting their online reputation.
Careless announcements of personal matters, sexting and cyberbullying are indeed more common among young than old. A survey by McAfee shows young people frequently overstepping parental boundaries online. So when older people create digital tattoos it is often a function of their lacking tech skills, such as not knowing how to manage privacy settings, whereas when their kids do it it’s because they know how to exploit this ignorance on part of their parents. But this doesn’t necessarily mean kids don’t care about their privacy settings. Precisely because younger users are digital natives they are both capable of leaving their parents in the dark and they are much busier pruning their social networks and pre-selecting who gets to see what.
If anything, these strategies indicate a less than lackadaisical approach to privacy management. And since technology often follows social demand rather than vice versa, we get social apps like Snapchat, the app that lets you share any potentially regrettable moment without getting to the point where you actually will regret it. Pictures shared with Snapchat are designed to self-destruct after max 10 seconds leaving sparse opportunities to create permanent havoc on anybody’s digital life. Snapchat and Facebook’s copycat version Facebook Poke is a fast growing trend among Generation Y and Z precisely because they don’t know if they want to be associated with Instagram pictures over which they have no proprietary rights for all eternity. Or so it seems – because there is one big caveat. If you’re fast enough you can take a screenshot of a Snapchat image and thus exploit the sharer’s false sense of security. Whenever a screenshot is taken, the sender is notified, but there is little they can do about it.
This begs the question, will services like Snapchat, which I expect we will see more of, curb our current problem with files gone wild or will it only give a false sense of security to girls gone wild? Snapchat has already achieved the reputation of being a sexting app, but it doesn’t stop there. Daniel Bjerkeli (16) is one who discovered Snapchat’s cyberbullying potential the hard way. “With Snapchat one can send messages that quickly disappears and cannot be traced. The service is used so far to denigrate others” he says.
Saint or sinner, Snapchat is the fastest growing mobile app after Instagram thanks to all the college kids who gave at least enough thought to their online reputation as to download a free app.
Update 5/17/2013: More “ephmeral” self-destructing apps are being launched. The latest one I’ve noticed: Blink. Says founder Kevin Stephens “Our main goal is to bring real world conversations online”… “The things we say in person are not written in ink, but the Internet is. We want to bring that to a mobile medium. Privacy combined with authenticity are indeed growing aspects of social sharing.