Tag Archives: danah boyd

Week Six: Stranger Danger

In danah boyd’s chapter “Are Sexual Predator Lurking Everywhere?” she discusses how many parents either restrict their children’s access to social networking sites or forbid the use of these sites all together due to the fear that “evil men are lurking behind every keyboard, ready to pounce on [their children]” (102). This fear, also known as “stranger danger” began in the 1980s, before the Internet became a fixture in everyday life, and was focused primarily on public spaces as places teen could come into contact with “harmful strangers.” With the introduction of computers and the Internet into people’s home, many parents feared the introduction of a public space that did not have physical boundaries. As boyd mentions, this parental fear of predatory strangers was greatly heightened by the show To Catch A Predator, as well as in the mainstream media that greatly focused on stories of suspected kidnappings and sexual predation of teens by people they met online.

When I was in middle school, I distinctly remember watching To Catch A Predator and feeling intense fear of being kidnapped and raped by someone who would find me online. This fear of stranger danger was made even worse by my mother who constantly ran over to my computer every time she heard me typing to see if I was talking to someone online, even though most of the time I was trying to search for something via Google. I definitely identified with Sabrina when I was in middle school; the girl boyd interviewed who lived in a planned community. Sabrina “was cautious and limited her online activities, [but] she was terrified that something would go wrong” (109). I decided to re-watch some clips of To Catch A Predator, as I haven’t seen the show since 2007, and was shocked by how problematic it now seems to me as an adult, especially considering how this show is emblematic of the moral panic surrounding the Internet at the time of my youth.

Not only was that show ethically questionable, as the tactics they used to catch the “predators” were extremely problematic, but also ignored the fact that the Internet is not increasing the number of cases of sexual predation. According to The Shame Game, by Douglas McCollam and also mentioned by boyd:

Dateline has argued that “Predator” serves a genuine public good, but it could be argued that, in fact, Dateline is doing the public a disservice. When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales gave a speech about a major initiative to combat the “growing problem” of Internet predators, he cited a statistic that 50,000 such would-be pedophiles were prowling the Net at any given moment and attributed it to Dateline. Jason McLure, a reporter at Legal Times in Washington, D.C., (where I was formerly an editor), asked the show about the number. Dateline told him that it had gotten it from a retired FBI agent who consulted with the show. When the agent was contacted he wasn’t sure where the number had come from, terming it a “Goldilocks” figure — “Not small and not large.” He added that it was the same figure that was used by the media to describe the number of people killed annually by Satanic cults in the 1980s, and before that was cited as the number of children abducted by strangers each year in the 1970s. Dateline has now disowned the number, saying solid statistics about Internet predators are hard to find, but that the problem seems to be getting worse, a sentiment echoed by lawmakers in Congress.

I can say this show personally affected my life and helped perpetuate the culture of fear that seems to becoming increasingly popular. Instead of nuanced approaches to understanding new media and its relationships with teens, mainstream media prefers to scare everyone and ignore real and more pressing problems.

Week 5: The Selfie Illusion

In danah boyd’s blog post on “Super Publics,” boyd discusses the altered state of publics – what publics look like when they are infused with the features of digital architectures” and “about what it means to speak for all time and space, to audiences you cannot conceptualize.” Many selfie-takers are hyperaware of this extreme form of the public, and increasingly not only take selfies to remind themselves of a specific moment in time, but also to communicate with this super public about their existence. Perhaps this is the reason that according to selfiecity, more females than males take more photos of themselves—to illustrate to the world and themselves their existence, which has been historically ignored in a number of patriarchal societies. At the same time, this could also be the reason for the larger about of selfies posted by women—as these women could be performing for the presumably male gaze. Neither of these claims can be proven unless we ask the selfie-takers themselves, but it is clear than not only women are the ones who feel the need to perform for the super public.

Danny Bowman, a nineteen year old, would spend up to 10 hours a day taking up to 200 snaps of himself on his iPhone. According to the writer Alicia Eler:

In a story of isolation and fear in the digital age, this young boy became completely addicted to snapping and posting selfies. His life was ruled by clicks and likes; in a sense, the internet was his mirror, until, after overdosing on pills and being saved by his mother, he realized that he was more than just his selfie. “Gradually I realised everyone wasn’t looking at me. I didn’t need to check my appearance the whole time,” he told the Daily Mirror.

While this is an extreme case of selfie-taking, it is clear that Bowman was constantly aware of the super public as a source of validation, so much so it consumed his life. However, what he did not realize was that selfies only as an illusion—not as proof of existence, and that the user should be in control of the selfie—not the other way around.

Week Three: Me, You, and Everyone We Know

Danah Boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, discusses the various reasons as to why adults view teenagers’ online interactions as addictions in “Chapter 3: What Makes Teens Obsessed with Social Media?” What stuck me most about this chapter in particular was the section on “Growing Up with Limited Freedom.” Boyd discusses how “today’s teenagers have less freedom to wander than any previous generations” and how “even in suburban enclaves where crimes are rare, teens are warned of the riskiness of wandering outside” (86). This restriction on movement, both imposed on parents and self-imposed by some teens themselves, coupled with the reduced amount of free time some teenagers are forced to deal with, leaves many teens longing for some type of social connection. As a result many teens “turn to…asynchronous social media, texting, and other mediated interactions” to reclaim sociality (90).

Not only are teens less free as they had been in previous decades, but many are also coming to age without agency. Boyd discusses G. Stanley Hall and his mission to “define adolescence in order to give youth space to come of age without having to take on the full responsibilities of adulthood” (94). While beneficial in many respects, this has also “lead to…contemporary youth also facing state-imposed curfews, experiencing limitations on where they can gather, and getting parental approval before they engage in a host of activities.”

When still in high school, I recall vividly the feeling of being trapped, both by my well-intentioned mother at home and outside of the home with the enforcement of curfews; reading Boyd reminded me of that time. Because of the restrictions placed both on my friends and me, I ended up watching a lot of movies and going online to chat vs. going outside and hanging out. One of the films I watched was Miranda July’s 2005 film Me, You, and Everyone We Know. July’s film, made when the Internet and was still fairly new in the lives of teens, focuses on several sets of characters: a single father with two confused children; a struggling artist and the depressive art gallery curator who she’s courting for a showing; and two randy teenage girls who befriend an older male neighbor with a perverted streak. While all the characters are very different, the main theme binding them together is that all want human connection and communication. However, in this film July shows how far some will go for this connection and the darker side of this need, reminding me of the parental fears Boyd discussed in her book. At the same time, July’s film shows the fractured nature of modern life, for both adults and teens, and how these characters attempt (in somewhat absurd ways) to mend those fractures. This can be seen most profoundly in a chat scene in the film, where two brothers who’s mother just left their family, are chatting online with an older woman. At the end of the day, as Boyd discusses and July shows, teens (and adults) just want human connection.