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What the Net privacy big picture has to do with parenting

It’s no wonder parents and schools aren’t sure where their policies start and stop when it comes to online interaction among young people who could be in any home, any school, any community or even country. Governments – whether local, state, or national – aren’t sure either. More than ever, “jurisdiction” and “regulation,” whether a family’s or a national government’s, is no longer either/or, no longer simply either “mine” or “theirs,” because activity no longer happens in a single physical space. That was true when it crossed state, provincial, and national borders over time, but now, with real-time interaction in social media, it’s more true than ever. Whether the aim is protection or regulation, power is getting more and more distributed because of the constant, ever-changing flow of self-expression, communication, sociality, and commerce across any and all lines of jurisdiction.

Even though families and schools operate at a much smaller scale than national governments, this article in Infosecurity magazine explains unusually well the new and changing conditions we’re now navigating on all levels:

Changing definition of ‘jurisdiction’

“The concept of jurisdiction is based on territory and sovereign control of territory, but that traditional premise is shattered by a type of action that can be initiated in a country where it is legal, yet have an effect that is criminal in another country, and be perpetrated by an actor who is resident of a third country. To make matters worse, it is often impossible to prove where the action was initiated, or who really caused it.” And this isn’t true only of crime, of course.

“Governments, businesses, information security professionals, and individual citizens [including the youngest Internet users]; the actors have all been called to the great stage of advocating for internet [and personal] security. Let the curtain rise on the next act of this amazing story,” Infosecurity adds. It’s a work in progress. Regulation and protection are getting more social, being redistributed and spread across the network that is us, and sovereignty is becoming as individual as it is national. We and our children aren’t just agents for change, we’re privacy and safety agents and regulators as well – and social literacy is our currency. It’s what makes it all work successfully and safely. This isn’t aspirational, it’s logical in a networked world.

From macro policy to micro (family) policy

How is this happening? Think about this with your parent hat on, now – and in terms of privacy and safety for Internet users of all ages. What are the implications where our children’s use of social media is concerned? When something comes up in an app or Web site, where’s the “jurisdiction”? Think of the “old days,” when an argument broke out between two people on the phone. Interaction in today’s media still unfolds in real time, as it did then, but now it can involve any number of people in any location, using any form of media (not just audio), and often but not always representing who they are in offline life – though sometimes anonymous. The only thing that isn’t different now is that the resolution of the argument still can’t come from calling the phone company. There are tools for reporting and blocking someone at the other end of a conflict, but – even when sites and services show corporate responsibility, enforce their terms of use, and have responsive customer service departments – they can’t know the context of the conflict and can’t truly resolve it. The context is offline life, relationships and environments (such as home, school, workplace).

  • Digitally enhanced “people power.” The more user-driven media is and the more it’s “produced” in real time, the more important self-regulation becomes. Families and friends need to be talking about this because we’re the helpers, gatekeepers, and “neighborhood watch” participants of social media communities – we need to have each other’s backs. As Infosecurity put it, “the Obama administration’s efforts to support ‘do not track’ provisions, which give the consumer the right to control access to their data, are pointing to the role of the individual in policing the internet. That idea is widely supported in Europe and illustrates the importance of the individual citizen in every dimension of the new digital world.”
  • That means education is huge – for prevention of problems, of course, but also after the fact, in educating ourselves about what really happened when issues arise. People helping to resolve issues need to investigate thoroughly and thoughtfully, looking at the multiple perspectives typically involved – what happened offline as well as online. It’s sometimes scary that there’s an “evidence trail,” but that can help investigations too. The lion’s share of education is literacy, the blended literacy of a networked world – media literacy, digital literacy and social literacy (more on that here) – and, as New York educator Barry Joseph put it, “the fast track to new literacies [for our children] is youth digital media production.” Literacy through practice.
  • What hasn’t changed, even though the technology has, is that resolution of problems still happens largely through people working things out together – not just family and friends, but also fellow community members. We need to become more practiced at harnessing the power of community in online spaces now – especially when harassment is anonymous. Very often it’s someone the victim knows or knows of offline, therefore local, so people in one’s physical community (e.g., school) are often part of and can help in online situations too.

Just as offline, an online incident is individual, situational, and contextual – for the very reason that what’s expressed online is the content of our everyday lives. The sooner parents and all “regulators” understand that what happens online is much more about our humanity than our technology, the more sense we’ll make to our kids when talking about tech use – which means they’re more likely to listen and work with us as we all become better at self-regulation and community “policing.” They’ll understand better that it’s when we stop being humane – when individuals’ behavior and businesses’ practices become anti-social or criminal – that we jeopardize our own and others’ safety and privacy.

Next: From self-regulation to self-definition – growing demands on our media literacy

Related links

  • The notes in my short Powerpoint, “A New Kind of Social Contract is Now in Place” go into more detail on the more distributed power and regulation of the digital age. [The notes replace the comment window below each slide. So, to get to the notes, scroll down to the comment window beneath the slide and click on the tab “Notes for Slide (1, 2, 3, etc.)” above the window. These are my entire (brief) talk in text format.]
  • About how anti-social media companies inadvertently “plan” their own obsolescence
  • More on parenting in a digital age through modeling as well as teaching social literacy
  • About child development, parenting and “the first great existential crisis of the digital age,” as author Jeffrey Rosen put it, and how much more onus that puts on individual and corporate social norms in a networked world
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