Facebook beefs up security: Some good, some stuff needs work

Facebook is undergoing some pretty interesting and I think beneficial changes to its Facebook security and privacy settings. My friend and colleague Anne Collier summarizes them quite well in her Net Family News blog (if you do not get her weekly newsletter, you REALLY should!). Here are some highlights:

  • Users will have the ability to approve a post or photo right before it’s visible to others.
  • Users will be able to choose a setting in which they can approve or not approve a tag someone else makes before it goes live.

Why are these changes so great? Because it provides a moment of pause before something goes public. A user can think for that one more second as to whether what they are about to broadcast is a good idea or not. In other words, it’s a concrete and immediate reminder as to what is about to happen.

The bonus will be if we can somehow communicate that point directly to the youth and young adults who might benefit from it most.

And speaking of youth, Facebook has also just published Own Your Space: A Guide to Facebook Security. Supposedly, its audience is “Young Adults, Parents, and Educators,” but I would be shocked if they consulted any youth before putting that document online: 14 pages of text and graphically sparse, it falls far short of being youth friendly. If Facebook truly wants to reach out to those younger users, it’s going to have to revise that manual into something that will actually be read.

Fandom + internet = new lows

Here’s another example that supports my belief that the internet does not really offer up anything new when it comes to youth expressing their sexuality, instead simply repackages old phenomena — albeit sometimes in an amplified format:

Teens in Mexico are allegedly auctioning off their virginity in order to score Justin Bieber tickets. This horrifies me in many ways. The obvious one: Justin Bieber. Really? The second one: the concept that sex is seen primarily as a commodity. Auctioning off one’s virginity is not a new idea, but what I don’t like is that there are so many messages nowadays that stress sex as a product more than an experience people share with each other. This concept can be seen in both the abstinence-until-marriage movement as well as the “pornification” of youth today. The third one: That the news would choose to cover this idea, which in and of itself glamorizes the situation. I guess I’m to blame now, too, since I am calling attention to it by writing about it. My bad.

Do we really know how social networking impacts youth?

A plenary presentation at this year’s American Psychological Association’s convention is getting a lot of press (in part due to the APA’s own press release). The talk, entitled “Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids,” highlights of the talk, at least according to the press release, include findings such as:

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  1. Teens who use Facebook more often show more narcissistic tendencies while young adults who have a strong Facebook presence show more signs of other psychological disorders, including antisocial behaviors, mania and aggressive tendencies.  
  2. Daily overuse of media and technology has a negative effect on the health of all children, preteens and teenagers by making them more prone to anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders.

 The research nerd in me sees the first statement as more “mild” than the second for one main reason: The first statement simply shows associations.  An association, in teens, between being full of oneself and being on Facebook more often. In young adults, hanging out on Facebook more is associated with being anti-social and having mania. Those statements make sense to me — you can see how those characteristics go together, but there is no indication that being on Facebook causes narcissism, mania (which can result in not being able to sleep and thus being online more), and/or anti-social behavior.
Then, there is that second bullet — the one that makes me nervous and even angry. First of all, what is “overuse”? How many hours constitute that concept? Second, the phrase “has a negative effect” implies that the researcher studied young people over time – and if that happened, how long a time? I would love to see that actual study so I can answer those questions for myself.
Finally, the word “all” – really? Every single child, tween, and teen is going to be prone to anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns by “overusing” Facebook? Wow. Never in my life have I heard a researcher claim that a phenomenon impacts every single person. Think of all those chain smokers that manage to not get lung cancer, for example.
Most of you will probably think that I am being a little too picky here, but I think it’s important to point out how these phrases can mislead reporters. I understand that most reporters are not trained in research – that’s OK. But, to feed them such broad generalizations is nothing short of dangerous and irresponsible. Which, in turn, misleads the public. I will take back everything I say here if somehow “overusing” Facebook causes every single young person mental harm, but until then, shame on you APA.