The public-private privacy divide

Tell me your age and I’ll tell you how much you care about privacy.

Okay, perhaps it’s not as clear-cut as that sentence indicates, but there’s certainly a correlation.

I have two Facebook identities. One is personal: out of concern for my own privacy, I’ve limited everything I’ve posted there to be seen only by friends. And when I say “friends,” I mean actual friends and a few colleagues, not any old stranger who asks to be friends.

My other Facebook identity, under a slightly different name, is my teacher identity. I spend much less time there, but I set up that account in order to communicate quickly with my students. They don’t check their e-mail very often, but they’re on Facebook every day after school (if not during school when the teacher isn’t looking), so I can reach them more easily there.

Using my teacher identity, and with the help of a couple of my students, I created closed Facebook groups for each of my classes and tasks: one for each class, one for further education advising, one for a model UN group. That way if there’s something I want everyone in my English class, for example, to know, I can post it there. If they have a question they post it as well.

I’ve never sought “friends” under my teacher pseudonym, but some of the students have “friended” me. And that allows me to see what they’re posting on-line.

One thing has become clear: there is no public-private divide in their world.

  • They don’t limit posts to their friends. They’re open to the world, so that even if a student isn’t “friends” with me, I can click on his name and see all of what he’s posted.
  • They post pictures of everything. The boys often post pictures of themselves with their girlfriend, preferably in a sexy dress or bikini, for status value. They also post about their exploits involving drinking, and sometimes pot as well. Fuzzy pictures of groups of drunken boys clowning for the camera, beer bottles in hand, abound. The girls are a little more restrained, but sexy poses are common too. (And all of them just love 9gag, but that’s beside the point.)
  • As for language, the girls tend to keep it decent with a liberal dose of emoticons, while the boys pepper their posts with swearing, as you can see in the screenshot below. If you don’t understand Dutch, be assured that it’s incredibly insulting and rude, both to one of his “friends” and about his friend’s mother.

    Ironically, I've messed with this screenshot to protect my students' identities.

    Ironically, I’ve messed with this screenshot to protect my students’ identities.

I’ve pointed out to my own kids and my students that employers check Facebook; if they see things they don’t approve of, they won’t hire you. The kids are singularly unimpressed. Their view is that it doesn’t matter; employers will see that they were much younger when these embarrassing photos or comments were posted, and they’ll understand.

I’m not saying that all the posts reveal too much about their lives, but some do. I don’t want to see a photo of a kid’s rear end as he drunkenly moons the camera. I don’t want to see a photo of two of my students making out. And I’m sure an employer (or future spouse) won’t want to see that either.

I had a conversation with my 13-year-old niece about this last summer when I was busy blogging as we travelled in France. I wrote about the things we were seeing and doing, and I commented to her a couple of times, “Don’t worry; it’s not about you,” or “Don’t worry, I won’t mention your name.”

One day she responded “You know, you don’t have to keep saying that. I don’t care if you write about me. Write whatever you want. It’s not a problem.”

That about sums up the Facebook generation gap. These kids have no sense of privacy and that doesn’t bother them one little bit!

And perhaps they’re right. Perhaps it won’t matter to future employers. Some day, their employers will be from their own generation: they’ll have an embarrassing Facebook history too. So my niece will be right: it won’t be a problem.

I’d love to hear your take on this. If you comment below, could you please also mention your age (at least approximately)? I’m wondering if this is a black or white thing – i.e. that you see it as important or you don’t, depending on your age – or if there are more nuanced gradations in attitudes about privacy between my generation and my students’ generation. Thanks!

And please share this post if you find it interesting!


  • Delia @ Blog Formatting

    April 6, 2014 at 7:24 pm

    Interesting article, Rachel! I think the world changes a lot and so it’s hard to say how much this is gonna matter in the future. Maybe we’re all gonna run our own businesses and not depend on an employer to hire us. We can only wait and see 🙂

    • rachel75

      April 7, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Good point, Delia! If people are changing jobs more often, being independent contractors, etc., maybe it really won’t matter!

  • Phoebe @ Lou Messugo

    April 7, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I’ve noticed this too with my teenage son and his friends; everything is for the public domaine. I think your last paragraph is highly poignant, that this may well be the way of the future and it won’t matter by the time our kids are looking for jobs etc. It will be the norm. They’ll think we have an absurdly out-dated idea of privacy. Certainly foods for thought and not easy as the mum of a teenager.

  • rachel75

    April 7, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    They already think we have absurdly out-dated ideas about privacy! Maybe we should just let our teenagers get on with it! Thanks for commenting!


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