We might want to cut the kid some slack

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Every opportunity I get, I question young Canadians on why they share so much information so freely and so widely when using online sites and services. Being an aged adult, I often frame my questioning by citing the negative consequences that over sharing can produce: job loss, identity theft, even physical risk.

What if we, as a society, simply have to get used to a greater frequency of inappropriate behaviour by people who, frankly, are still learning how relate to other humans in the wild?

Here’s a dose of reality and frank observation from Clay Shirky, writing in the New York Times as part of an exchange on privacy in an online world:

“ … Society has always carved out space for young people to misbehave. We used to do this by making a distinction between behavior we couldn’t see, because it was hidden, and behavior we could see, because it was public. That bargain is now broken, because social life increasingly includes a gray area that is publicly available, but not for public consumption.

Given this change, we need to find new ways to cut young people some slack. Privacy used to be enforced by inconvenience; you couldn’t just spy on anyone you wanted. Increasingly, though, privacy will have to be enforced by us grownups simply choosing not to look, since it’s none of our business.

This discipline isn’t just to protect them, it’s to protect us. If you’re considering a job applicant, and he has some louche photos on the Web, he has a problem. But if one applicant in 10 has similar pictures online, then you’ve got a problem, because you’ll be at a competitive disadvantage for talent, relative to firms that don’t spy.

People my age tut-tut at kids, telling them that we wouldn’t have put those photos up when we were young, but we’re lying. We’d have done it in a heartbeat, but no one ever offered us the chance … ”

As privacy advocates and concerned parents (or uncles, aunts, grandparents, even nosy and irritating siblings), we emphasize the physical or monetary risk that can build by revealing too much about yourself online. As Shirky points out, their behaviour isn’t any different from previous generations – they’re just given more opportunities to shout their strengths and weaknesses from the rooftops.

Maybe the answer is to identify issues that have an immediate effect on the life of young Canadians – like their dating habits.

Researchers at the University of Guelph have discovered that the more time young Canadians spend on a social network, the more likely they are to become jealous of their dating partner.

“It becomes a feedback loop,” [University of Guelph psychology grad student Emily] Christofides said. “Jealousy leads to increased surveillance of a partner’s Facebook page, which results in further exposure to jealousy-provoking information.”

“It fosters a vicious cycle,” Christofides said. “If one partner in a relationship discloses personal information, it increases the likelihood that the other person will do the same, which increases the likelihood of jealousy.”

Now THERE’S a consequence young Canadians will understand.

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