According to the Pew Research Center, Internet privacy is an important concern of young Americans. After speaking with many young Saugertiesians, it’s clear that privacy is on their minds, but the majority felt they were in control of their digital footprint. When asked for their opinion, they talked about who saw their social media profiles. Few mentioned government surveillance or the accumulation of private data for sale to marketing companies.
And so the young people of Saugerties probably would not completely agree with Edward Snowden’s statement: “I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded.” Young Saugertiesians gladly share clips of their daily lives but take care in making sure that their expressions find the right audience. For them, privacy concerns center on protecting one’s family and in projecting identity on social media. They’re not very worried about personal data being accumulated by private companies or the government.
Tristan Marchand, 13, talked excitedly about posting videos of jumping off the bridge at the Blue Mountain Reservoir and eating with friends at Dallas Hot Wieners. Evan Olsen, 14, loves taking photos of the baked ziti his mom brings home from Pizza Star. Nikki Rogers, 31, uses Facebook for staying connected to family, meeting like-minded people and promoting her business. She said she is not an outwardly social person and finds it easier to communicate via social media.
Veering from discussions about posting food pictures to privacy issues was jarring for most. Brandon Schoonmaker, 32, said personal responsibility is important when posting on social media. He said he was comfortable with what he shared with his circle of friends online. Nikki Rogers said she feels very comfortable with what she shares because she knows who is on the receiving end, though she did have a scare once when someone tried to log in to her account from Hudson, New York. She changed her password.
Rebecca Lang, 32, said she was not worried about the NSA, again stressing that protecting one’s home from intruders or burglars is much more important.
Tristan repeatedly stated that he had nothing to hide and I began to understand that his notion of “supervision” was more immediate; parents, school figures or police. The NSA and government surveillance operations were, for the most part, out of sight, out of mind for these young people. That was not the case for Joshua Olsen, who said collecting phone calls and texts was a clear invasion of privacy.
Tristan joked about the neighborhood boogieman and unsavory types that might be viewing his profile. When asked where he learned about this, he laughed, saying, “Cops.” He was very adamant about how he takes measures to protect himself from these phantom figures by not friending anyone he does not know, applying the same logic he learned as a child not to talk to strangers. Again, the issue was not privacy for its own sake but the possible ramifications in the physical world of personal information.
Tristan took pride in being able to take care of himself in the digital world. That rang true for all the teenagers. There is a sense of accomplishment in being able to manage oneself through social media, knowingly walking the boundaries between desperate attention-seeking behavior and public self-development. Several young people mentioned they were fans of actress Selena Gomez and that was something they shared via social media. When asked about Miley Cyrus, all of them sneered and chimed in that she had gone overboard – the hair, the outfits, her performances; it was just too much. Social media helped them cultivate their taste and also their sense of decency.
Tristan said social media has built-in features that would have been considered an invasion of privacy a generation ago. For instance, Facebook’s default settings reveal one’s location with every post. Marchand says this is both beneficial and detrimental to him. He likes to advertise when he is skateboarding – posting photos and videos and sharing with friends, but his mom sees those posts too, and knows just where he is. “We do not like supervision,” he said, smiling.