Challenge of Developing Effective Public Policy on the Use of Social Media by Youth, The

Privacy and Security, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing and Internet

Article Snapshot


John Palfrey


Federal Communications Law Journal, Vol. 63, No. 1, December 2010


This paper asks how studies of young people’s behavior can inform policy about young people’s use of new media.

Policy Relevance

As young people spend more time online, they also expose themselves to greater risk of exposing private information. Successful creation of youth media policies should be driven by the interaction of policy makers and social scientists.

Main Points

  • Most young people, as well as most adults, do not read websites’ privacy policies, and may be unaware when their private information is at risk of disclosure.
  • Disclosure of private information can be a more serious issue with minors because they are more likely to engage in unwise behavior, such as sexting.
  • There is a general misconception that young people are unconcerned about their digital privacy. In fact, research shows that young people are very concerned about their privacy in specific areas:

    • Keeping information from their parents.
    • Keeping information form their teachers.
    • Keeping information out of corporate hands.
  • If better educated, young people are likely to manage their own privacy issues, preventing legislators and parents from having to intervene.
  • In order to successfully protect youth privacy it is necessary to establish collaboration between policy makers and social scientists, who best understand youth media practices.
  • Creating better and more forward thinking privacy policy should take a five part approach:

    • Understanding the manner in which youth are engaged in digital media.
    • Ensuring that adults acknowledge and take responsibility for their role in managing young peoples’ privacy.
    • Educating youth on the importance of privacy in a manner that is not focused on scare tactics.
    • Ensure that companies that collect youth information utilize easy and obvious privacy controls.
    • Generally increase user control over the use and release of private information.

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