Changing Privacy Expectations?

Cross-posted from Corinna Di Gennaro’s blog. Full version with links here

As Miriam Simun from our Digital Natives team is off this morning to present our research findings on digital natives and their attitudes towards privacy at the Harvard CRCS Privacy and Security seminar series, news comes from Italy that the Agenzia delle Entrate – the department of revenue – has made available online for all to see citizens’ annual incomes, searchable by anyone with an Internet connection. After a few hours the site was up it got clogged with requests, while protests started to come in for the breach of tax payers’ privacy. The Garante della Privacy intervened later in the day to stop the data from being released online.

What’s interesting about this story is that one might expect general outrage at the revenue department’s initiative to make such highly personal data public. But a quick look at two online opinion polls published by two of the major national newspapers shows that the outrage is not as widespread as it might be believed. At the time of writing this, sixty four percent of the readers who replied to the poll answered that they saw nothing wrong with the initiative – while 34 percent of respondents replied that making data available online was too much (La Repubblica). A poll by another newspaper, il Corriere della Sera – shows slightly different results, with 52 percent of respondents agreeing with the initiative to make the data available online.

While these polls are in no way representative, they are nonetheless indicative of a shared feeling that if personal data is made available online in order to increase transparency, then loss of privacy should be seen as acceptable. I was surprised – but less so when I put these results in context of our findings from our Digital Natives project. We live increasingly in a surveillance society where data is constantly collected about us from different technologies without people being necessarily aware of it – at the same time, we are increasingly sharing details of our personal lives online. Amongst the young people we’ve interviewed for our project, there is some awareness that loss of privacy is the trade off for living increasingly connected lives online. Clearly the tide cannot be stopped – what’s needed is a concerted effort to address these issues from an educational, technical and legal architecture standpoint in order to educate people (and institutions) on how to navigate this new world.

Letting the Internet Explain Itself – A Video Roundup

Since we first started blogging here in November, we’ve generated a lot of text…but that’s all rather analog, very not digital at all. In the spirit of a more digital post, I’d like to share a few of the best videos I’ve found explaining the Internet. These videos showcase — with the added benefit of graphics and sounds — many of the same ideas we’ve been discussing on this blog and why we find Digital Natives so fascinating.

(For technical reasons, videos can’t be embedded, but hyperlinks are still cool.)

The Machine is Us/ing Us
Michael Wesch, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State, put together this insightful and technically brilliant video explaining web 2.0 and the revolution in how we store and process information.

We Think
How the Internet allows for the free flow of ideas across communities. True to form, the book that ties with this video is also editable by you in a wiki.

The Common Craft Show
A YouTube channel that explains all those Internet buzzwords like RSS, Twitter, social networking in plain English and as my fellow intern Diana calls it, “jankety crank animation.”

A History of the Internet
Berkman Fellow Ethan Zuckerman gives a brief history of the Internet from the days of ARPNET. Funny and illuminating, this video show why the Internet was and still is all about connecting people.

So remember when I said we were generating a lot of text but not much else? Not quite true, Digital Native videos are in the works — stay tuned!

– Sarah Zhang

Learning Race and Ethnicity, in the MacArthur Foundation/MIT Press Series

cross-posted from Dr. Palfrey’s blog; full version with links here

Learning, Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media is the fourth book I’ve read in the MacArthur/MIT Press Series on Digital Media and Learning. This volume, edited by Anna Everett, is the furthest from my own field — law — and, for me, the most challenging.

Prof. Everett’s opening essay, (which follows the excellent foreword by the series authors, as with each volume in the series), is an effective overview of what follows in the volume. She takes up the familiar debate about the term “digital divide” and why it now rankles more than it helps. She also reminds us that the old joke about how online nobody knows you’re a dog is no longer true, with the advent of rich media and other “advances” in digital technology and how it’s used. I was left, from her chapter, with one line resonating in particular: “the color of the dog counts.” (p. 5)

The rest of the volume consists of three clusters. Future Visions and Excavated Pasts is the first. Dara Byrne leads off with a piece on the future of race. She pulls in and incorporates a series of great quotes from message boards and other online public spaces; takes up (and takes on) John Rawls on the public/private question that runs through so many of our discussions of online life, (p. 22); and digs deep on the future of whether there will be dedicated sites for different races as we look ahead. The punchline is that yes, “minority youth must have access to dedicated online spaces, not just mainstream or ‘race neutral’ ones.” (p. 33)

Tyrone Taborn’s “Separating Race from Technology” is the other essay in this first cluster. Tayborn compares the likelihood of any group of students (”majority white or minority, rich or poor”) knowing Kobe Bryant and Dr. Mark Dean, the African-American engineer involved in IBM’s development of the first PC. His point is clear. As one of a series of possible solutions to the problem of too few minority youth having mentors and heroes in the technology world, Tayborn calls for Digital Media Cultural Mentoring (p. 56).

The second cluster of essays take up art and culture in the digital domain. Raiford Guins guides the reader through a tour of the ways that hip-hop culture, art, and use of technology come together online in the form of “black cultural production in the form of hip-hop 2.0.” (p. 78) It’s a must-read essay; heplful to read with a browser open and a fast broadband connection on tap. Guins has an intriguing segment on the future of the music label, among other take-aways (p. 69 – 70).

Guins’ essay is well-paired with Chela Sandoval and Guisela Latorre’s celebration and contextualization of Judy Baca’s work at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) in LA. (One wonders why LA gets more than its fair share of intriguing digital media production experiments and narratives?) Among other things, Sandoval and Latorre challenge the notion of “digital youth” and the challenges of overly delimiting based just on age — a helpful reminder of a point too easily forgotten. (p. 85) In the final essay of the cluster, Antonio Lopez offers insights into (and concerns about) digital media literacy with respect to Native American populations, told largely in the first person.

Jessie Daniels opens the third cluster with a jarring piece on hate, racism, and white supremacy online. Daniels picks up on themes about the fallacy of colorblindness established in Anna Everett’s introduction. With a link to Henry Jenkins‘ work, Daniels argues for a “multiple literacies” approach to shaping our shared cultural future online and offline. (p. 148 – 50)

Yet more jarring, to me anyway, is Douglas Thomas’s piece on online gaming cultures, called “KPK, Inc.: Race, Nation, and Emergent Culture in Onling Games.” Thomas draws us into gaming environments only to reveal a culture of wild adventure, first-person shooter games, acquisition, treasure, money, and hate all rolled together. The crux of his argument centers on the “Korean problem,” (p. 163-4), a blend of bigotry, nationalism, and competitiveness. The racists that Thomas exposes “are usually Americans / Canadians and white” — and gamers. (p. 164) Along the way, Thomas distinguishes his approach from that of our Berkman colleague Beth Kolko. (p. 155-6)

The final essay, by Mohan Dutta, Graham Bodie, and Ambar Basus takes us in a new direction, further afield, toward the intersection of race, youth, Internet, health, and information. The authors synthesize a great deal of disparate information in unexpected ways. The essay left with an expanded frame of vision, and a frame that I never would have come up with on my own. Their punchline: “disparities in technology uses and health information seeking reflect broader structural disparaties in society that adversely affect communities of color.” (p. 192)

On balance, this collection of essays hangs together very well. Each essay takes a on strong point of view. Overall, the collection both informed my thinking and provoked more by raising hard issues about the impact of growing up online for race, ethnicity, identity, and health.

Beyond Lie Dragons: Delimiting Blogospheres

We often talk about the “blogosphere” as a singular entity—a hive mind, almost, that reflects the beliefs, activities, and interests of its participants. When we assume that this supposedly singular entity can tell us something about “global youth culture”—or, indeed, about any culture—we immediately run into problems.

For one, if “the blogosphere” is a hive mind, it is one perpetually at war with itself; blogging may be a push-button method of publishing beliefs and proselytizing agendas, but there’s nothing in the method itself that determines the slant of the content. In fact, anyone who has read the comments on a politically contentious blog post probably recognizes that blogging facilitates disagreement and reactionary debate to the point that every opinion will find its opposite in “the blogosphere.”

There is another problem, however, and this one is more trenchant. The word “sphere” goes beyond connoting a network; it subtly suggests a global quality that “the blogosphere” simply does not possess. Yes, people blog all over the world. But the network created by these blogs appears not as one sphere, but as many.

This alternate understanding of the term “blogosphere” emerges especially when we try to study specific groups of bloggers, and run into a language barrier. The Internet, by erasing the barrier of distance, enables English-language bloggers in Australia and English-speaking expats in Brazil to belong to the same sphere of understanding; they can freely traffic in each other’s blogs, comment on them, understand them. In fact, the English-speaking expat in Brazil might write regularly on the 2008 presidential election, and effectively be a part of the same conversation as a fellow political blogger in Kansas. Nationality, location, and age have almost nothing to do with this mutual legibility; language has everything to do with it.

The Internet & Democracy Project at the Berkman Center has a fascinating new paper on Iran’s blogosphere that delves into many of these questions: “Mapping Iran’s Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere.” The very premise of the paper hints at one of its larger claims: that there is a specifically Iranian blogosphere. Interestingly, though, many contributors to this blogosphere are physically located far from Iran. According to the report,

Iranian bloggers include members of Hezbollah, teenagers in Tehran, retirees in Los Angeles, religious students in Qom, dissident journalists who left Iran a few years ago, exiles who left thirty years ago, current members of the Majlis (parliament), reformist politicians, a multitude of poets, and quite famously the President of Iran, among many others.

These bloggers span the spectrum from very secular to very religious; from politically conservative to radically liberal. But the conversation in which they engage, and its consequences for Iranian politics, is sometimes hard to parse because anyone who writes in Persian—regardless of location or citizenship—is, by default, a part of the Iranian blogosphere as we are able to measure it. The report addresses this problem at length, admitting that

It is often difficult to judge where a blogger is physically located, especially since Iranian bloggers inside and outside Iran use the same Persian language blog hosting services, but our analysis suggests that a significant proportion of the bloggers who live in what is thus popularly understood to be the “Iranian blogosphere” do not live in Iran.

It’s alluring to think of a “global youth culture” emerging on the internet—a cyber-space where distance is no object, and young people on opposite sides of the globe can trade ideas, stories, and favorite music. This is not a pipe dream. However, language is a very real barrier, especially because the internet as it exists right now demands textual navigation. If you search in your own language, you will, for the most part, only encounter results in your own language—even if someone writing in Russian, Japanese, or Swedish might have something smart or provocative to say on the topic. Perhaps we perceive “the blogosphere” as a singular entity because we are blind to its boundaries; “beyond” lie dragons, and words we cannot understand.

For more on blogospheres and language barriers, see this post on my blog, about the Russian internet and the difficulties presented by Cyrillic characters.

Diana Kimball

Instructional Technology in College Courses

As more Digital Natives arrive at colleges and universities, professors and instructors of all subjects are trying to use digital technologies to better connect with students. In my personal experience as a sophomore at Harvard, some professors have been quite adept at using online resources – like watching music videos on YouTube during a foreign language class – while others have yet to embrace digital technologies.

Overall, however, most professors who I spoke to here at Harvard were passionate about the opportunity of using the Internet and its resources to improve teaching and make student’s learning experience more engaging. Many wondered where to start, asking which types of tools would be best to help students learn. In an effort to identify what digital “tools” students find the most helpful, I worked with the Romance Language department to survey hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students about their experience with instructional technology. Specifically, we asked them to rank digital technology tools (like blogs, podcasts, and wikis) on a scale of 1 -5, where 1 is “not useful” and 5 is”very useful.” We also asked them to describe their best experience with digital learning and to comment on any negative aspects of using digital technology in college courses.

Average Rating

Consistently, students ranked the posting of course material online and interactive syllabi as the most useful. They believe that all courses should maintain a website that contains readings, notes and other content so they can be accessed easily during the semester. Furthermore, students greatly appreciated interactive syllabi – a list of lectures and assigned readings with links to download them. Both of these features enable easy information access, something that saves time and confusion. However “web 1.0” they may seem, students view them as a necessity.

It was interesting to see how different groups of students ranked newer technologies like lecture videos, blogs, and RSS feeds. For example, undergraduates gave recorded lecture videos a high ranking, while graduate students did not. In fact, graduate students wrote in and note the negative aspects of lecture videos, claiming that they allow undergrads to skip class and take a passive role instead of actively participating in the lecture. Freshmen tended to give higher rankings to “web 2.0” tools like wikis and blogs than did older students, perhaps a sign of digital natives entering the arena of higher education.

Most striking of all, however, was the difference in rankings between students who have used a given technology and those who have not. For nearly all technologies, students who had firsthand experience with tools tended to give them a higher usefulness ranking. This means that students may not know to ask professors to use tools like RSS feeds and podcasts until they have experienced them in another course. This is shown in the graph below.

Average Usefulness by Prior Experience

My favorite part of doing the survey was reading the written responses. Although students expressed concern with digital technologies replacing personal discussions with professors, the vast majority of respondents praised digital tools for making learning more engaging and exciting. The best experiences with digital media where ones in which online content and tools supplemented inspiring lectures and stimulating readings.

Instructors looking to use digital media to improve the learning experience can look to first meet “web 1.0” needs, like easy access of readings and other material, and then incorporate social tools like blogs, wikis and RSS feeds of relevant news.

I encourage anyone who is interested in seeing the details of the study, including many of the open-ended answers, to download the full report at .

Tony P.

Schools on Internet Speech

Astute readers will probably have noticed that although we’re supported by Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center, Digital Natives has more of a sociological rather than legal bent. Not that these two spheres are disparate, of course, as this post will hopefully demonstrate. Another one of the great projects affiliated with the Berkman is the Citizen Media Law Project (CLMP), which offers legal guidance to people creating digital media.
Here, I’d like to take a look into the CMLP’s Legal Threats database and examine a few representative cases most relevant to Digital Natives: schools and Internet speech. It’s no surprise that students talk about school, and it’s certainly no surprise that students are now doing it online. With the forum for their words now so open, how much power do schools have in regulating what their students say online?

I won’t go into the obscure legal details here – there are other people much more qualified than me – but I do hope to lay out some outlines. This essay from the First Amendment Center provides an excellent (and longer) introduction to the issues and provides a good framework to keep in mind when evaluating these cases:

Is it on- or off-campus speech?
Is it a true threat?
Is it vulgar, lewd, or plainly offensive?
Is it school sponsored?
Can you predict a substantial disruption and invasion of other’s rights?

Hermitage School District v. Layshock (2006) – High school student Justin Layshock created a fake MySpace profile of his high school principal containing lewd and drug-related references. School officials, upon finding out about the site, blocked all computer access in school for five days and suspended Layshock. The court entirely ruled that the school was out of line because Layshock himself did not cause a substantial disruption.

Hudson High School v. Bowler (2005) – The Conservative Club at Hudson High School (HHS) put up posters advertising its first meeting that included a link to the club’s website, which contained video footage of beheadings in the Middle East as criticism of Islam. HHS’s Technology Director banned the website from all school computers due to the violent content on display, even though the website contained ample warnings. In court, it was ruled that this was a violation of First Amendment rights as the videos were only available to students “outside of school as a matter of conscientious choice.”

Weedsport Central School District v. Wisniewski (2001) – Eighth-grader Aaron Wisniewski’s instant messaging buddy icon depicted a pistol firing at a man’s head along with the words, “Kill Mr. VanderMolen,” referring to one of Wisniewski’s teachers at school. When school officials found out about the buddy icon, Wisniewski was eventually suspended for a full semester. The district court, later affirmed by the 2nd Circuit Court, ruled that the icon constituted a true threat, so the school did not violate Wisniewski’s free speech in undertaking disciplinary action.

Doninger v. Niehoff (2007) – When junior class secretary Avery Doninger was upset by the administration’s cancellation of a music festival, she vented out her frustrations online, calling the school officials “douchebags” in a Livejournal entry. The school then prevented Doninger from running for class secretary, and the Doningers filed suit in response. The court ruled that school officials were justified in their punishment because Doninger’s “blog was related to school issues, and it was reasonably foreseeable that other LMHS students would view the blog and that school administrators would become aware of it,” meaning that the post constituted on-campus speech.

The actions of these students are not really defendable, but neither they are that different from what was once whispered in hallways or scribbled into diaries either. Posting them on the Internet, however, gives them both more permanence and a wider audience.

Talking about these four very different cases together also seems a bit silly, as they run such a gamut of issues. Thus, it seems a blanket policy for all school-related Internet speech would not be feasible. The key, perhaps then, is not to be reactionary or overreaching in response. Might ignoring these comments even been better policy in some cases? Had the school officials in Hermitage v. Layshock not reacted so strongly, would we still be reading about them two years later?

The other part is educating students about the consequences of their actions. Teenagers will probably always be making the occasional misguided comment, but there’s no reason they can’t learn to be more prudent about their words and actions. For example, after the initial controversy, Avery Doninger set her livejournal to private. It can be hard to understand the far-flung consequences of an online comment, but both students and school administrators should better learn to better grasp the shifting boundaries of the digital age.

-Sarah Zhang

Profile of an Avatar: Teens and Online Identities

Profiles never tell the whole story. The word “profile,” in its pre-web definition, meant “the outline or contour of the human face, esp. the face viewed from one side.” Fast forward to now, when most young people in the U.S. and elsewhere maintain at least one “profile” online. Maybe it’s a Facebook profile; maybe it’s on MySpace. Maybe it’s somewhere else. But imagine being able to create an avatar of yourself from scratch—a two-dimensional version of you that amplified what you considered to be your best features, and hushed the parts you weren’t so fond of. In fact, that’s exactly what many teens on social networking sites do every day: manage their avatars, the “profiles,” or artificial outlines, that act as vessels for their online identies

It can be intoxicating. It can be empowering. It can also be confusing.

A new study by OTX Research and the Intelligence Group reveals that

“Teens tend to be happier with how they look online (e.g., their MySpace profile) than with their actual looks — 78 percent vs. 68 percent.”

That statistic may not seem huge, but that’s actually a full 10% of teens who responded that, while they were not happy with how they looked in real life, they were happy with how they looked online.

These “profiles”—the way teens look online—are necessarily full of artifice. That’s not because they’re false, but simply because they’re completely constructed. A Facebook profile is a collage: of photos lifted from your own camera and the cameras of others, quotes and bands and movies you liked and want others to know you liked, applications that you choose to display, and other people’s affirmations of your identity in the form of public Wall posts. And yet, it is allowed to stand in for identity.

This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. But the ways that teens manage and manicure their online profiles are worth paying attention to. If you ever want to really get to know someone—not just the outline, the profile, the side-view—ask him to take you on a tour of his favorite profile. All of the decisions that go into creating that image speak volumes about the fears, desires, and beliefs of the person behind the profile. We constantly create and recreate avatars of ourselves; sometimes, avatars we prefer to the genuine article. That’s not something to condemn, but it is something to interrogate.