Youth, Surveillance, Social Media

Just wanted to create a thread to continue the discussion from the end of our meeting today about how social media, cameraphones, and surveillance affect youth and teenagers who grow up being socialized into an all-public life, and the dangers they face from state and non-state stalkers, predators, etc.

I think about this a lot lately, and how as adults we can take actions which protect teenagers from online predators, child pornographers, state surveillance, corporate surveillance, etc. while still respecting their agency and giving them the freedom to have space to talk to each other away from adults and teachers.

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@shelley during the chat you said something along the lines of “socialized into surveillance” which really drives home what social media is doing. It’s normalizing surveillance to a whole generation. And it’s not just done online, that creepy elf on the shelf thing during Christmas is another way for capitalism to normalize surveillance disguised as a cute parental tool for behavior modification.
With my teen/children’s librarian we made up a template of a contract for parents to use with their children, “family contract for internet/device safety.” It addresses their (kids) actions but it doesn’t acknowledge surveillance. And I don’t know how to address that with parents.


That’s really cool, Sam. I would love to see/share out that contract if you have permission to share it from your library.

I worry just as much about the surveillance aspect of youth with their technology as I do about their mental health. The Sad by Design piece we read this week really made me think about how impactful social media and apps in general are on growing minds that are already experiencing dramatic changes.


It’s not just the nature of the apps and all the problems fraught with them either. It is also the constant connection and lack of escape from the communities at school in these apps. This is why cyberbullying has become such a severe issue. It used to be that a bullied child might get some escape when they left the school grounds, but the social media platforms have just become new battlegrounds for this sort of thing. Bullies have already been really good at keeping their abuse under the radar of adults and authority, and that gets amplified now with easy-to-create anonymous accounts and features like Snapchat or Instagram Stories that automatically delete themselves after a short period.

I am also concerned about how many schools have essentially outsourced their student data to third-party companies. Heck, I voiced similar concerns when my library started using a marketing service to send library information and emails to our patron community. We essentially just handed our entire patron database to a company with only the usual boilerplate protections on data privacy and usage - conveniently located inside a Terms of Service which can be changed at the company’s whim. That doesn’t even begin to cover what would happen if their information security is breached. What schools have made the same sort of deals with their student data? Who now has access to that data and what are they using it for?

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I know that COPPA is meant to protect the personal information of minors, but given how long Google got away with violating COPPA, I’m not sure how well these companies being used by schools and libraries are doing the same. Do these companies working with libraries know to differentiate the juvenile library cards from the adult library cards?

Not being able to get away from school seems huge. When teachers and parents can see all of your socials, and you do all of your socializing in public, then you don’t really get a safe place to communicate without thinking about how you might be judged by authority figures.


@abby, I’m attempting to attach images of the contract here:

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Hmmm I think this is very unbalanced in favor of the adults. It puts a lot on the teen and doesn’t explain what is “content that will embarrass us” or what is “good digital hygiene.” It also asks the teenager to do free tech support for the same adults who are being framed as the ones who know what is safe to install, safe to say, etc. Also I don’t like this thing about giving passwords to parents, sounds like opening up more opportunities for surveillance.

Now I want to rewrite this, where for each agreement the teenager makes, the parent makes one as well. “I will give my child the space to freely express themselves to their peers.” “I will not read my child’s personal text messages.” “I will not isolate my child from their friends and non-familial support networks.”

That’s a fair criticism. When we drafted this, it was parents who wanted to something clarify their expectations of their kids online/device use. Kids should also be able to use the same document to hold their parents responsible for teaching digital hygiene; and “content that will embarrass us” should go both ways (consent with posting pictures, telling stories about kids’ lives on social media).

I love these statements! It would keep parents on the hook to model good behaviors.

I agree with you @shelley about it being heavy-handed in favor of the adults, but it’s fun to read it as if the adult is committing to these practices to their teens or children.

I’d love to find an adult that is willing to commit to all of these practices that they expect of their children without balking.


I’m curious peoples’ thoughts on the Digital Detox Youth guide? Its four sections focus on digital privacy, security, wellbeing, and misinformation, and I can totally imagine going through each sheet with the teens I work with. Something I’d be interested in investigating further is, what kind of relationship and consciousness do teens already have towards the role of capitalism and surveillance in their online lives, and what ways are they already subverting or manipulating or avoiding those forces on their own? Granted, the teens at my library are constantly tagging every imaginable surface with their IG handles, as if we aren’t a public library full of adult strangers they maybe don’t want following them online! But, I also know teenagers to be resilient and imaginative, and much more cognizant of the forces controlling their lives than they always get credit for, even if they seem to lack the language or tools needed to address them. I’d be interested in offering some extended programming in part centered around the Youth Digital Detox and actionable privacy protections, and in part centered on conversations in which they get to teach me about navigating their own online lives. I’m finding myself sitting in this half-baked contradiction between being generally suspicious of the “teens as digital natives” narrative, while also believing that youth are experts in their own experience. Somewhere in that in-between space, I think, is an opportunity to scaffold teens’ own understanding and further set them up for security success.


I loved the guide, I actually did it myself and found it very useful. We are offering virtual volunteer hours for teens and was considering linking it for the teens to do for community service. It’d be on the honor system since I don’t know how to really prove they did it in a way that doesn’t go against what it’s trying to do. I would love to expand on it as well in a more of a programming setting.

I really like this @Chloe - I tweeted it on my org’s account in case other libraries are into it, too.

I understand the contrary feelings you wrote about, and agree with them!