Megan Duncan, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2015 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: "As a generation who grew up with the Internet at their disposal, Millennials have developed a view on sharing information via social media that is unique to their generation, with the line between what should and should not be shared online continuing to blur. In your opinion, what are the advantages of the ease of assessing information via social media, and in what ways does using these sites compromise privacy? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?"
For Millennials, social media has become a natural, everyday form of communication. It’s the way they keep up with friends, communicate with family, connect with acquaintances, stalk celebrities, understand brands and even meet strangers. Yet somehow, many people don't think about the privacy implications of social media communications. While the ease in worldwide communication benefits outweigh the costs of skewed privacy perceptions, it’s important to take comprised privacy into effect when contemplating social media.
On one hand, social media connects people throughout the world. For example, through the Instagram community I have met friends in Switzerland, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Spain and all over the United States. Due to the large amount of life information shared through social media, it’s easy for people to connect with others from completely different cultures and not feel like complete strangers. It also keeps people in touch. Facebook acts as a directory of all of the person connections you’ve made in your lifetime and LinkedIn has the same purpose for professionals. Life information, milestones and attitudes are all easily accessible for everyone you know, all in one place. Yet, most people only assess their social media privacy levels when doing high-stake activities like searching for a job.
On the other hand, social media takes freedoms of speech and press to a whole new level. All of a sudden, one average person’s inappropriately impromptu tweet could become a mass media phenomenon, such as the Justine Sacco Twitter scandal. Now states like Maryland are creating laws releasing organizations from liability for their employees’ social media posts. Opinion can be debated and shared in mere instants. Social media can be so impactful that it can even help ignite revolutions such as the Arab Spring. Casual conversation can rocket into headline news, or at least a trending article on Buzzfeed. Posting to social media sites contains the risk of your life content being used in ways you never intended, though you posted it publicly on the Internet. Even when privacy settings are well-set, hackers are known for infiltrating social media systems and releasing widespread information to the world. Now brands are able to retrieve more in-depth data on trends, online communication, lifestyles, and brand interaction than ever before. Where most people post mindlessly on these sites, there is a blurred line between public and private space.
However, when people are intentional about what they post to social media, I believe the benefits of these online connections outweigh the costs. Though it has turned into another avenue of mass media, the potential to use social media for good overshadows the ability for privacy to be breached. As long as people are mindful of their social media activities, using these platforms is a privacy risk that many are willing to take.
Megan is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Advertising and Multimedia Design.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.