Young people’s on-line identity, privacy & trust

Internet privacy is inextricably linked to Internet identity. We who are older and wiser, keep demanding they who are younger and sillier, be cautious, be anonymous, and be bland. In order to protect ourselves, we mustn’t divulge too much information. We mustn’t connect with people we don’t know. We must second guess every post, every picture, and every comment. It’s only common sense, after all. These are traditional social expectations taught to every child for as long as there’s been a village green, a town square, or a shopping mall where people congregate and pass the time. Communities are built on these shared values of mutual respect and tolerance.  Treat someone the way you want to be treated. Giving is more beneficial than getting. You get back what you put in.

Yet, in less than a generation we have experienced the breakdown of traditional methods of communication, of community, and of the way we see ourselves and each other. The Internet, its participatory nature, and the ability to construct a life that is entirely fictional has allowed an anonymity with far-reaching implications for individuals and organisations, and society.

Rayna-Goldie (2010) distinguishes between social privacy and institutional privacy. Young people are more concerned with managing their friendship list, than they are about what Facebook intends to do with their personal information. It’s more important to make sure someone you don’t like doesn’t find you on social media, than it is to see customised advertising appear on the side of your wall, because you started searching ’winter boots’.

The impact of social networking sites selling our data to global corporations is also evident, in Pearson’s (2009) article. He is aware of how much information is being collected and mined, but he also an optimist, in that he believes trying to find an a specific piece of information about a particular person will be next to impossible, given just how much data there is (a lot!). Maybe it seems harmless enough, but it’s not. Especially when the end game is profit margins.

One positive element though, about young people and their online activity is their creativity and engagement (Mallan & Giardina, 2009). They post to their pages, and expect feedback and support. They are conscious of what their friends post, and validate their life by comparing friend lists, and by managing their on-line identity constantly. It helps that they trust people will respond to their participation positively.

The participatory web does have a lot to answer for. The lack of real life interaction is the biggest. Following this is the concern about the mediated life filter. Everything a person does on-line is subject to constant analysis and judgement. However, when balanced against the positive aspects, it’s possible to see that young people are savvy (Jenkins, et. al., 2006) and interested in building appropriate and affirming digital lives. And Social Networks play a significant role in the way young people engage with technology, their peers, and the way they present themselves virtually.



Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. J., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. Available

Mallan, K. & Giardina, N. (2009). Wikidentities: Young people collaborating on virtual identities in social network sites, First Monday, 14(6), 1 June. Available Date accessed: 16 May. 2015.

Pearson, J. (2009). Life as a dog: Personal identity and the internet. Meanjin, 68(2), 67-77. Retrieved from;dn=346579933206675;res=IELAPA

Raynes-Goldie, Kate. Aliases, creeping, and wall cleaning: Understanding privacy in the age of Facebook. First Monday, [S.l.], jan. 2010. ISSN 13960466. Available at: <;. Date accessed: 15 May. 2015. doi:10.5210/fm.v15i1.2775.



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