2014-01-17 / Columnists

Your Life And Privacy

The More Things Change
By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US

According to recent studies, teens in the United States and Europe are shifting from Facebook to a range of alternative social media applications.

It was only a matter of time.

While many parents originally joined Facebook to friend their kids in order to monitor their behavior, they liked what they found and stayed, and made it their own. Even grandparents use it regularly. Having a Facebook account is no longer cutting edge, as it once was. Facebook has become a mainstream communications tool.

Don’t get me wrong. Facebook is a remarkable tool that can still do remarkable things, like bring about revolutions. It is just not as cool as it once was, especially to teens, whom we all know have short attention spans and crave setting themselves apart from other demographic groups by engaging in the newest Next Big Thing.

Facebook has become stodgy compared to other social networking apps. Alternatives include Snapchat, which allows users to send photos that stay on a recipient’s device for a few seconds and disappear (unless the recipient quickly takes a screen shot); WhatsApp, a smartphone text messaging service; and Tumblr, a combination blogging and social networking site.

For teens, a Facebook account is largely about showing off their popularity (“look how many friends I have!”). That can get boring. Maybe Facebook’s shallowness, and the showmanship effort required to prove popularity and hipness, have grown old and tired.

Furthermore, teens are not immune to the debates about online privacy that have raged in recent years. Facebook is exhibitionist; alternative applications allow for more privacy, which certain teens may prefer.

Parents should be aware that, just as Facebook presented (and still presents!) online safety issues, so do all social networking applications. Explicit and disturbing videos and photos can be shared. Sexting can occur. Strangers and predators can reach out to children. Cyber bullies can bully on any application.

If your children are branching out to new applications to communicate, talk with them about their online social behavior. Ask them about, and understand, what they are doing and what services they are using, and the risks these applications pose. This is no small task: there are many apps out there.

Facebook has gone mainstream. While, as my 15-year old advises, it is still “big,” and kids continue to use Facebook to communicate, they are spending less time on it. The kids are moving on, as they always have, to the Next Big Thing.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

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