Youth, Privacy, and Online Media

The Danish focus group study "Teens' private and public lives on social media": Methodology

Strategies to control privacy and identity

"I kind of have an 'embarrassment code' with my parents"

One of the purposes of the Danish study was to understand in more detail the strategies that youth deploy to protect or control privacy. In all of the 11 focus groups the respondents were very aware of the way in which they represent themselves to their friends and family as well as reflective of the methods they use to control images and content. All in all, controlling one's self-representation on social profiles seemed to be a very conscious effort. There was a reflective awareness of what is respectively good and bad behavior in relation to sharing images and information with and about others. Among the interviewed, there were for example clear limits to what one shares on Facebook. Some of the mentioned examples of what not to share included very emotional status updates about personal matters – parents' divorce, break up with girlfriends and boyfriends, etc.

The respondents all used the "privacy tools" provided for them on the social media platform, for example, to create groups and to control their timelines. Moreover, they were consciously aware of the limits of these tools: "And if there are some embarrassing pictures from some parties then I usually make them invisible to all, for example if someone tags a picture of me at a party where there has been an embarrassing situation. Then you can make it 'not allowed on timeline'. But I can't delete the picture" (boy, 16 years old).

Many of the respondents' activities on Facebook took place in thematic groups created for specific purposes and for invitees only. The groups usually reflected already established social contexts such as the school class, the girls in the class, the football team, etc. In addition to the privacy management tools available, the respondents relied on commonly shared social norms to manage their privacy. These social norms were constantly in play and frequently emphasized by the respondents. The respondents were particularly reflective about the use of images and photos. For example, many of the respondents described a "filtering" process that all pictures went through either before they were posted or just after they were posted. Again, some pictures would not even make it to the Facebook Timeline as they were deemed "not suitable for Facebook". Others would be deleted just after being posted if deemed unfit based by comments. As one 17-year-old girl put it: "But you also look at the picture yourself one more time and think if you would like it yourself to have it posted. I rarely think about it. There are also pictures that are taken to look ugly just for fun. But in that case it doesn't even cross my mind to post it on Facebook. That is just not Facebook material". The "image filtering process" was by several of the respondents described as the result of "common sense", but when asked in more details about what this "common sense" implied, they found it difficult to explain. Still, the implicitly shared social norms for the use of pictures created an expectation among the respondents that they might control their privacy by shared norms on how to respond to specific types of behavior: "It is also a sort of unwritten rule that if you hint that something needs to be deleted. Then you delete the picture. You can write "Yieks!" or "ehr". Or just "delete". Then it should be deleted within 1 minute. I mean, you see it immediately on your mobile and then you can write. Then it will be deleted quite quickly" (girl, 17 years old).

When asked about privacy on social media, the respondents mostly related it to privacy from parents and teachers' prying eyes and involvement. One simple way to protect their privacy and be able to experiment without having to be accountable to their parents was to defer to be friends with them (often they deleted their parents from friends lists without their parents' knowledge). Moreover, some of the respondents who were in fact friends with their parents expressed a need to articulate and establish explicit rules. For example, a 17-year-old boy noted: "I told them that they should not be the first to 'like'. And they cannot post anything on my wall. I kind of have an 'embarrassment code' with my parents".