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article imageOp-Ed: Are teens sharing too much information online?

By Nathan Miller     May 25, 2013 in Internet
In recent years, social media has become an integral part of the lives of American teens. But with the increase in crimes of identity theft and concerns over government surveillance of private data, there is definitely cause for concern.
A recent Pew Research study asked 802 teenagers and their parents about the teen's social media use, and what actions they were taking to protect their privacy online.
The study found, among the 802 participants, that only 9% were "very concerned" about their privacy online, despite the fact that 60% of respondents indicated that their social media profiles were set to "private". Furthermore, the study found that 91% of teens uploaded at least one photo of themselves on social media, 71% were willing to post their school and their home addresses, 53% listed at least one email address, and 20% were comfortable sharing their cell phone number online.
Regarding the difficulty of managing social media privacy settings, 56% of respondents stated that it was "not difficult at all", 33% indicated it was "not too difficult", while 8% said it was "somewhat difficult". Less than 1% indicated they felt the process to be "very difficult". All of these statistics showed significant increases in teens' willingness to share private information online, compared to the previous study, conducted in 2006.
Considering the results of this study, it should come as no surprise that reported cases of identity theft from 2005 to 2010 rose an estimated 33%, as reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report also indicated that some of the victims were as young as 12 years old.
Perhaps more troubling than the report on identity theft are the facts presented by the National Center for Missing and Exploited children, which state, among other disturbing trends, more than 1.7 million reports of child sexual abuse since since December 2012 alone. Public information such as where a child lives or where they go to school, which 71% of teens polled in the Pew Research study were willing to share online, make child abductions that much easier for predators.
Yet, there are numerous advantages to social media as well, even for children and teenagers. Sites like LinkedIn allow users to set up a profile similar to a resume, where prospective employers can view experience and qualifications of potential employees. Facebook can allow best friends to stay in touch if their parents move apart. Twitter allows users to broadcast interesting articles and information to anywhere in the world. Social media even played a role in the recent Arab Spring uprisings in places like Egypt, which allowed those seeking to overthrow corrupt regimes to collaborate from thousands of miles apart. Certainly social media has a significant role to play in the future.
Technology, like the internet and social media, grant a certain power to its users. They allow us to become less dependent on other people and circumstances. Is the mailman sick? Now we send email. Is the store closed? We can just shop online. But with any kind of power comes responsibility.
While we have the power to hold personal conversations with people from around the world, as if they were directly in front of us, we now have the responsibility to make sure that the person with whom we are speaking is who they say they are. Individuals have a responsibility to protect their own private information, and parents have a responsibility to guard their kids from harm that can come from the internet, and to make them aware of the ramifications of being too permissive with their information online.
In light of our permissive culture, perhaps we all need to take a small step back in time, and realize that some things are just nobody else's business. The future of the next generation may depend on it.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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