Facebook’s new privacy policy claims to give teens a reasonable expectation of online privacy

Is Facebook giving teens a voice or using their “activism” for advertising revenue?

Photo by Matt Harnack [Facebook]

Facebook has faced many problems in balancing its users’ access to its services with providing an outlet for its users to express themselves freely.  For example, a Texas teenager faced possible jail time for a threatening Facebook post, while a British man was sentenced to two years in jail for his own Facebook threats.  Facebook has recently announced a new privacy policy, however, that may lessen social media users’ concerns surrounding what they can and cannot post online.  

Facebook now has a “friends only” default sharing option.

Facebook has always allowed its users to control with whom they share certain information.  The original “default setting” made certain posts public, unless the user manually chose otherwise.  This meant that each time a user updated their status, shared a photo, or posted on another’s timeline, it would prompt the user to choose to whom this information would be shared.  Facebook now has a “friends only” default sharing option.  For users between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, the default option for these posts has now changed from “friends of friends” to a more private audience of only “friends.

While making the default posting option more restrictive, Facebook has expanded the options for teens ranging from thirteen to seventeen-years-old by also allowing them to broaden their posts to public view.  Teens will also be given another opportunity to allow other users to monitor their social media posts by allowing those other users to select the “follow” option when viewing their profiles.  According to Facebook’s newsroom, these new changes have been made with the purpose of improving and facilitating the user experience for teens.  Facebook further says that they are still keeping teens’ best interests in mind and will do so by alerting them with additional reminders when and if they choose to make a post public.  

The more Facebook urges young teens to speak their minds and put everything out there, the more attractive it becomes to advertisers.

Determining Facebook’s real motive for lifting the restrictions on the publicity of teens’ posts can be difficult to reconcile with the wide debate over cyber bullying and online threats.  Perhaps Facebook has a more lucrative stake in allowing teens to post certain information.  Marketing companies seek out public information regarding young consumers, and Facebook posts prove to be a very susceptible target when these marketers are pitching their advertisements.  The more Facebook urges young teens to speak their minds and put everything out there, the more attractive it becomes to advertisers – which means monetization.

Facebook’s true motive behind recent privacy leniency for teens might be the recent statistics showing that Facebook is losing teenage users to other social networks.  Facebook has revealed to the Securities and Exchange Commission that they are unable to engage younger users as they previously had in past years.  Some of the more popular social media avenues for this younger age group include SnapChat and Instagram.  An overarching reason for these teens using other social media sites is that they want to share the most information with as many people possible.  SnapChat, Instagram, and Twitter are not likely to pose such restrictions.

Even though teenagers may not be the most responsible individuals when it comes to posting spontaneously, Facebook says that many teenagers engage in advocating for humanitarian causes and share interests in areas such as music.  In turn,  teenagers will bring in a wider audience that is interested in their posts, which will enable them to compete with Twitter.  Overall, Facebook supports sharing more information more publicly.  The user ecosystem is what drives Facebook’s business model, and opening up teenagers’ ecosystem to the entire world means those teens are now a full part of Facebook’s 1.2 billion user base.

Facebook will have to worry more about combatting sexual predators and bullies as it continues to expand its social network for younger users.

Although Facebook may be focused on targeting teenagers to draw more users, it may regret broadening the publicity for its younger audience.  Facebook will have to worry more about combatting sexual predators and bullies as it continues to expand its social network’s sharing options for younger users.  Even though it has safeguards in place to restrict access to the users above the age of thirteen, reliable methods for actually verifying the age of such users does not yet exist.  Facebook has said that “Teens are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they want to be heard.”  It is important to keep in mind, however, that the ramifications of them being heard could be harmful—like in the context of online bullying.  This is not an exclusive worry of Facebook, however, and Justin Bieber himself has just signed up to help test another, new social media brand directed at teens called “Shots of Me” which plans to cope with cyber bullying.

On the other hand, teens could become sensitized—rather than desensitized—to over sharing.

While teenagers may be among the savviest people using social media, it is debatable whether they will use this knowledge in a way that reflects their new expectation of privacy.  While a few teens may make humanitarian posts public, there will be the majority who post not so humanitarian things such as incriminating photos of underage drinking and the like.  These same teens may fail to realize that these posts can come to haunt them when they are applying to college, or to their first job either now or down the road.  Many teenagers use social media as a diary where they vent their every emotion, which can turn around to bite them when an outsider is reading their stream of consciousness.  With social media such as Facebook becoming more public, however, the public itself may gradually accept this “over sharing” behavior as commonplace.

On the other hand, teens could become sensitized—rather than desensitized—to over sharing themselves as more people are punished in the way that the Texas teen was for his threatening Facebook post.  Teens may begin to think twice about venting if it means that a few wrong words could cause them to face jail time.  It is evident that teens do realize that some posts are not only public, but also more permanent.  Perhaps this trend is already occurring as many teens—which even Facebook has recognized—have begun to use other forms of social media such as Snapchat, where they can send a message that is permanently erased after a set amount of time.  However, it should be noted that even this can be thwarted by a tech savvy user.

Overall, teens will be given the choice of what they want to share publicly.  The new settings may cause them to advertise themselves in an unfavorable light that shows they may be ignorant to their narrowed expectation of privacy.  Or teens may actually have the opposite reaction and become over-protective of what they share with the social world.  Either way, Facebook will continue to shape its users’ expectation of online privacy no matter their age.

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About Shannon Page, Senior Staff Writer (11 Articles)
Shannon Page served as a Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. She is from Wallace, North Carolina. Shannon received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Campbell University in 2010. After her first year of law school, she traveled to Venice, Italy to study Comparative Business Organizations through Wake Forest University School of Law. During law school, she interned at Ludlum Law Firm and at The Law Offices of Jeffrey G. Marsocci. Shannon graduated from Campbell Law School in May 2014.
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