How Do Canadian Teens Make Decisions When Sharing Photos?

Building on MediaSmarts’ findings on youth and privacy from our Young Canadians in a Wired World research, our new qualitative study, To Share or Not to Share: How Teens Make Privacy Decisions about Photos on Social Media examines the reasoning that teens apply when sharing photos online.

Knowing how young people understand their information rights is key to digital literacy education. Because the regulatory model that protects young people’s online privacy assumes that they will choose not to post anything that they want kept private, privacy education initiatives typically focus on telling young people not to post personal information online. However, our Young Canadians in a Wired World research suggests that young people do not define privacy as non-disclosure, but instead seek to negotiate an appropriate level of privacy from peers and family members through a set of social norms that govern who sees what. Given this difference, we undertook this study to learn more about how teens perceive and approach privacy online so we can develop digital literacy programs that reflect their perceptions and are responsive to their needs.

For this research we interviewed 18 Canadian youth between the ages 13 and 16 to find out if and how their decisions to post photos are rooted in a desire to manage their reputation, and whether or not they actively consent to the collection and use of their personal information by the corporations that own the photo-sharing platforms that they use. We also mapped their knowledge about data protection principles and asked about any experiences they’d had interacting with corporations to exercise their rights under existing fair information practices, such as being able to access and delete personal information.