• Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

Title

Why Does Facebook Want Our Kids?

In the New York Times article, "Why Does Facebook Want Our Kids," the on-going micro debate about the Child Online Privacy Protect Act illuminates the macro market influence that Facebook has on social norms of youth culture. May the law always be such a guide!

October 23, 2011
 

In the New York Times article, "Why Does Facebook Want Our Kids," the on-going micro debate about the Child Online Privacy Protect Act illuminates the macro market influence that Facebook has on social norms of youth culture. May the law always be such a guide!

Some years ago I mused about how my younger boy had a Facebook account well before his 13th birthday (when parental consent is no longer required for a child to provide personally identifiably information on line). What concerned me most was his creation of false credentials, which obviates the law and is an under-represented aspect of the legal debate. I stopped worrying about it, however, when the federal government issued Internet security best practices that included purposeful misrepresentation. Youth, not for the first time, were ahead of the curve. Never mind, for the moment, the ethics of that configuration.

Recognizing the motivation behind Mr. Zuckerberg's interest in this debate over how, when or whether to exercise this law is far more insightful than getting caught up in the details. Not only do educators have yet another example to add to instruction on how Facebook operates as a business, but it might help some of our scholars on youth and technology take market factors more keenly into account.

At the EDUCAUSE conference this past week, dannah boyd gave a talk on social norms of new media. That teen-agers want and need physical and psychological "space" from the superegos of their world is not news. The challenge to do so in an information economy is. Facebook commodifies every thing a young person posts and commoditizes every user. The constant drumbeat to create profiles, post information, and tag photos is the heartbeat of an entrepreneur. Facebook can't stand still. It must voraciously get more information, mine it assiduously, recombine it creatively for sale. Like spiders spinning silk for cross-hairs, complicated algorithms of networking must continue at an industrial pace. Users, after all, are not Facebook's customers, advertisers are. And by the way, Facebook is not "public," a misnomer if there ever was one; it is most emphatically a private Internet space.

The poignant question is not whether Mom and Dad will understand why Suzie stays up late posting comments or refashioning her profile but whether Suzie will ever appreciate how much Mark is making off of her, how that profit shapes her "social norms" and what it means for her personal autonomy in the developmental long run. Mom and Dad have Suzie's interest at heart, and Mark does not. At the micro level, individual families have, as Tolstoy notably said and I now paraphrase, their own michigas. But at the macro level, Suzie has many more challenges to her emerging concept of "privacy" from Facebook than her parents could ever pose.

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