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How Youth are Navigating Social Media – Leslie Regan Shade

Submitted on Monday, November 14, 2016

Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. Today’s youth use many social media tools to navigate their lives. Those tools can create jealousy, bring joy, break friendships, or, begin new ones.

What troubles Professor Leslie Regan Shade is how these online and mobile information infrastructures, when coupled with social norms, may expose Canadian children and young adults to discrimination and online harassment.

“As youth go about their everyday lives using social and mobile media, they can unwittingly leave a trail of personal data that can be used to individually profile them…this can subject them to various sorts of demographic segmentation that can then be embedded into the commercial messages they receive online,” Dr. Shade says.

This is the premise of online behavioural advertising when ads are targeted to specific users based on data collected about their previous online behavior, such as surfing the web for all sorts of content. They may then find ads showing that item or other similar items across their subsequently visited sites or social media feeds. Behavioural
advertising is a stealthy tactic especially for young people, who may not be aware their web searches are tracked for
marketing purposes.

To explore this issue further, Prof. Shade is one of the co-investigators for a seven-year SSHRC-funded partnership titled the “eQuality Project.” The partnership, composed of academics, policymakers, educators, and youth, is studying the impact of commercial data practices and how young people understand privacy.

The concern is that youth who have traditionally been subjected to discrimination, such as racialized youth, Aboriginal youth, girls and young women, disabled youth, and LGBTQ youth, are at the highest risk of online harassment and data discrimination. This discrimination may take the form of algorithmic systems that provide personalization
and recommendation systems that limit, rather than expand user choices, or that unduly reinforce set patterns of discrimination that diminish the representation of some user groups while over-representing others. These Big Data practices are troubling, Prof. Shade says, as they may expose young people to cyberviolence, cybermisogyny, and cyberbullying.

“Not only is Big Data compromising existing regulations that are in place to protect young people, these commercial data practices also raise important questions about the equal ability of youth from diverse communities to engage with digital culture, without fear of harassment or discrimination.”

According to Prof. Shade, the partnership will create innovative digital citizenship programs, such as educational materials to share with youth, youth-serving organizations, educators, policymakers, and other academics.

~By Emily Johnpulle

Read in the fall issue of ‘Informed’