[Dave Birch] As has been mentioned once or twice, the world of social networking provides a specific and immediate kind of weapons range for testing new ideas about identity and privacy. Facebook, in particular, seems to developing an emergent properties space where all sorts of experiments are already under way with the identity concepts at their core already one step removed from the common sense” view of identity . There is one class of experiment that I find particularly fascinating, and these are about matching and comparing the “grown ups” perspective against the “kids” perspective. US examples are always more acute because they involve law suits, so let’s start there. Here’s a fabulous example.

a suit was filed in Mississippi that alleges a school official—more specifically a teacher acting in her capacity as a cheerleading coach—demanded that members of her squad hand over their Facebook login information. According to the suit, the teacher used it to access a student’s account, which included a heated discussion of some of the cheerleading squad’s internal politics. That information was then shared widely among school administrators, which resulted in the student receiving various sanctions.

[From Cheerleader sues school, coach after illicit Facebook log-in – Ars Technica]

This follows on from other recent stories about employers demanding log in passwords for social networks and so forth. If my employer wanted my LinkedIn password, I would regard it is transparent evidence of their insanity and a clear flag that our working relationship had collapsed. But if you’re a kid and it’s a teacher asking, I suppose you might feel under pressure to comply with something that’s obviously a breach of natural justice. Not surprising, in many ways, because it’s always difficult for social mores to adjust to new technologies — people used to be given instructions for answering the telephone — and this stuff is still really, really new. People don’t yet have sense of what is naturally right or wrong in the new environment.

So, people in authority behave inappropriately when faced with new technology. No big surprise. But what I found fascinating about this story — and the lesson it contains about emerging “norms” around identity in a digital age — was the reaction of some other kids faced with the same demand.

…several other students asked for their logins simply deleted their accounts using their cell phones, preventing this sort of intrusion; the schools apparently have a filter that blocks access to its Web interface from school computers.

[From Cheerleader sues school, coach after illicit Facebook log-in – Ars Technica]

In a way, I find this heartwarming. The kids aren’t stupid: they live in that world and they can distinguish their multiple virtual identities. Faced with a privacy violation that undermines a virtual identity, they slash and burn. And the school’s efforts to prevent them manipulating their virtual identities are fruitless.

I therefore regard this as an uplifting story: we might not yet understand exactly what we mean by privacy in the Facebook age, and we may be aghast at what kids post on their pages, be we can at least see that they do have a sense of what is right and wrong in that unfamiliar world and. what’s more, they have an understanding of the tools so that they can take some control over what is happening out on the wild frontier. A natural teenage response: I’m sure my kids would sooner delete their Facebook accounts than give me their passwords. Not just because their might be embarrassing stuff their, but because they feel that the Facebook identity, while just a persona, has an integrity that is destroyed once someone else has the password.

Many companies have turned to Facebook as an “identity management” system…. The reason is simple: Most people only have one Facebook identity, and they stick with it.

[From Does Obama Want to Replace Your Facebook Profile with Your Social Security Card? | | AlterNet]

This isn’t clear to me at all. The way that my son regards his Facebook identity has no conventional analogue. It’s certainly not the way that I regard my LinkedIn identity, for example. And it might be a hassle for him to delete it and create a new one, but it’s not that much of a hassle compared to me changing bank accounts or something. And I certainly wouldn’t regard LinkedIn or Facebook or similar as adequate “identity management system” until they give the option of two-factor authentication, preferably one that includes a distress call (use this smart card/ dongle/cellphone with PIN 1234 and you get logged in, use it with 5678 and the account locks up and sends a warning message to all your friends or something). But that’s for another day. I’m not saying that kids have it all figured, as they clearly don’t…

Cottage Grove police ticketed 12 teenagers earlier this month for underage drinking after receiving anonymous tips, relating to a Facebook announcement of the house party they were attending.

[From The Phoenix Online – Police use ‘Facebook’ event to arrest for underage drinking]

They’ll learn. But we can learn too by accepting that we need to develop more sophisticated notions of identity in our post-modern paradigm and that trying to shoehorn entirely new concepts like a social networking identity into either pre-modern notions of what might or might not constitute real identity or modern notions of some kind unique state-delivered identity is going nowhere.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

1 comment

  1. I would not have been surprised if some of the kids had created dummy accounts and handed over the ID/pw to those instead of their ‘real’ ones. Who knows, perhaps they did.

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