Although online communication is important to youngsters, and proficiency in online activities might be an important element in building trust relations – see outcome 5 – this does not mean that youngsters are fully technologically proficient themselves, even though they might think so. In the Ofcom (2015) research it was found that a majority of youngsters in the UK cannot distinguish search engine ads from organic search results, even though these ads are marked as ‘ads’ (against 10% for for adults). Around 40% of youngsters in the UK believes either that “if a search engine lists information it must be truthful” or does not think about whether the results are truthful or is unsure whether this information is truthful. Over 50% of youngsters polled do not know that vloggers might be paid to give positive reviews. Only one-third of them is capable of managing their privacy for online media and only thirty percent knows how to report something online they find disturbing. According to Dutch research (Mediawijzer, 2015) 33% of children does not check shocking information; 50% shares shocking information, also if it’s unchecked. On the bright side, only a small minority (17%) thinks that all information online is true, and only 4%-9% (age group 8-11 and 12-14) believes that all information on social media is true. And, 70% of 12-15 years olds checks websites they have not before in one way or another. danah boyd (it’s complicated, 2014) writes: “Just because teens are comfortable using social media to hang out does not mean that they’re fluent in or with technology. Many teens are not nearly as digitally adept as the often-used assumption that they are “digital natives” would suggest. …. As sociologist Eszter Hargittai has quipped, many teens are more likely to be digital naives than digital natives.”
Also during the pilots the lack of critical reflection on new technologies and online media among youngsters was apparent. A module about upcoming new technologies in the Dynamic Identity project caused anxiety among a significant part of the students aged 11 to 14. In the Netherlands students from a group asked whether new developments were really that scary; colleagues from a previous group had already informed them about it in detail. In Poland a couple of boys admitted not having slept at night because of the module. And in Poland a 16-year old girl exclaimed that this was not a world in which she would want her future children to live. Still, all the module showed was Augmented Reality and Virtual reality apps, brain interface applications, Internet of Things applications and, yes, one pessimistic video on the possibility that future body augmentations might be hackable.
The anxiety that many students experienced during the module might be caused by the fact that trusted adults did not show a positive-only image of new technologies and thereby undermined the image of new technologies as an agent of hope and affirmation.
The insights and level of self-reflection shown by most of the students in the Dynamiczna Tozsamosc pilots in 2011 and 2012, Dynamic Identity and Identifeye were low. Most students appeared to have never given thoughts to questions such as: If you are killed why playing a game, how does this affect you? And what if you are humiliated in a game? Or raped? How would this change when you could upload a 3d-version of yourself to a game? Or a hologram? And what if you are printed in 3d, how much of you is in the resulting statuette?
Also on visual information, the most dominant form of information both offline and online, youngsters turned out to have little knowledge and reflection. During the Dynamiczna Tozsamosc pilots it appeared that no participant had any knowledge on the subject of film grammar. No one was familiar with film shot sizes or with the impact of different types of lighting or backgrounds. In a photo exercise, for instance, students (aged 11-14) were asked to make a selfie by means of a laptop. The instructors had directed the camera in such a way that a dustbin would be visible in the background of the selfie, or some rubbish. Not one student noticed that on the selfie they took these objects would also be present. They just clicked the start button of the selfie application and posed.
Thus, modules on film grammar were introduced in the Dynamiczna Tozsamosc project 2012 and the Dynamic Identity project. One of these modules concerned itself with elements of film grammar and another module analyzed selfies as self-presentation within the framework of visual analysis.
Knowledge about the subject of profiling among youngsters was also low. Profiling was a major theme in the Dynamic Identity project. Only one class in Greece knew about profiling, as well as a few lone individuals in the other class rooms in Greece, Poland and the Netherlands. Most knew that their online behaviour had something to do with the types of advertisements they would meet online later on, but almost no one knew how this exactly worked. The working of cookies, fingerprinting and profiling algorithms was unknown to most and therefore hardly any participant had ever thought about the potential impact of profiling, for instance on their own future or on the essence of our self. But, the reflections came quick, especially after having seen how many advertising agencies track us in real-time by means of the Lightbeam plug-in for the Firefox browser.
When hearing about the workings of profiling most students reacted angry and frustrated at first. But then a small majority decided very fast that it did not concern them. Their motivations ranged from the famous “I have nothing to hide” to “it only helps me find things I like better”. A minority of the students told the instructors that after some thought they were not surprised because they somehow felt being watched. Still, many students were surprised that anybody would be interested in them in the first place.
Ofcom research results (2015) seem a bit more positive about the knowledge of youngsters in the UK: “more than four in ten 12-15s (45%) are aware of personalised advertising, in that they are aware that some people might see different adverts to those that they see. Fewer 12-15s (18%) state that everyone would see the same adverts, with close to four in ten unsure (38%). As such, the majority of 12-15s who go online are either unsure or give the incorrect response (55%).” But, when taking the pilots’ experiences in consideration, one should doubt whether the 45% that was found to be aware of personalized advertising actually knows how it works.
The indifference that many students displayed in their second reaction in the pilots should not be interpreted as indifference per se about the subject but rather as a defence mechanism to cope. In the Ofcom research (2015) 23% of 12-15 year olds indicated that they did not want anybody to see what they are doing online, while 58% would only want their friends to see this and nobody else. Profiling is to be seen as a serious violation of their preference. (For data on the general population’s view on privacy online, see Pew research, 2013.)
When asked whether they would film an incident at school according to Dutch research (Mediawijzer, 2015) 40% of 9-12 year olds would not film it because a majority (51%) of them do not like to be filmed themselves while 30% would film it, but 77% of these would first ask permission of the individuals involved to publish it. Only 17% would film a disturbing incident at school and ony 8% would share it.
As was stated before, many youngsters cannot comprehend why people and organizations unknown to them would be interested in them. As was mentioned in outcome 3 most youngsters want to be able to feel free online to do what they want to do. To them the online sphere is a sphere of trust between those whom one knows and their friends and, maybe, the friends of their friends. While for younger children the amount of friends, followers and likes is a major issue (Ofcom, 2015) for teenagers online contact rather is about having trusted relationships with friends and acquaintances. In this sense the online environment is nothing else than the hiding places for contact that youngsters of all generations have looked for (see f.i. dana boyd, it’s complicated, 2014).
What has changed, though, is that these hiding places are monitored by companies and authorities, even by means of tapping our webcams, and by parents who are turning into mini-NSAs by means of spying apps. Guardian journalist Rory Carroll reflected in 2014 on wearables that make exact tracking by parents of their children possible: “I say, God help them. What sort of childhood is it with every move tracked, scrutinised, logged, judged? Where you cannot wander, try something new, be spontaneous – be yourself – without issuing a beeping alert from wearable, connected technology?”
Instead of building trust and communicating with youngsters many adults check on them. Trust is built, as Anthony Giddens describes (Modernity and Self-Identity, 1991), by a child that is learning that if parents leave, and then are invisible, that this doesn’t mean that they are gone forever. Over time the child starts to understand that the parents will return and will become visible again. Maybe it is time for adults to learn this kind of trust again too with regard to their children and not plan their children’s schedule up to the point that children have no time for anything spontaneous and online can meet online, where they are controlled again.
The given that youngsters are not very reflective about what they do will not be solved by more online spying on them. As was noted in outcome 3 rather conversations with adults about what they do online and shared time online can increase their online safety, which is what parents are aiming for.