According to Harvard’s 2013 poll surveying millennials’ opinions on a variety of public policy issues, social media sites have given users a more enhanced sense of political engagement. But this increased participation is accompanied by concerns about online privacy.
As might be expected, younger millennials (18 -24 years old) are involved in more types of social media than those in the 25-29 year-old range. And those most active on social media sites responded on the poll that they consider themselves more politically active than those who do not use social media. More users on more sites among the younger age group demonstrate a clear shift of information to the cloud, outweighing initial concerns for the security of online information.
Given that communication and dialogue have become more common on the Internet, have our concerns about Internet security decreased? As Harvard’s Public Opinion Project shows, increased online activity has led to exactly the opposite; in fact, as more millennials use social media, they have become increasingly protective of their online privacy.
Greater Online Presence Doesn’t Indicate an Increased Sense of Online Security
When asked if they would give up personal information from a variety of platforms to aid national security efforts, older millennials approved of information collection at a higher rate than their 18-24 year-old counterparts across almost every type of activity, including social networking (25 percent to 14), web-browsing (19 percent to 12), email (17 percent to 11), telephone calls (17 percent to 10), and text messages (14 percent to 8), even though they were much less active in each of these individual activities.
In total, 70 percent of 18-24 year olds reported that they would not approve of any of these information sources to be used to aid national security efforts, compared to only 51 percent of 25-29 year olds. Older millennials were much more willing to give up information on every social activity in general, especially in mediums in which they were less active than younger millennials.
This contrasts with a different finding within the poll: when the source of this information was not explicitly mentioned in the question, both the 18-24 age group and the 25-29 age group were similarly willing to offer up personal freedom, and privacy in general, for the sake of national security. Around one-third of both age groups (30 percent for 18-24 year olds, 31 percent for 25-29 year olds) agreed to give up personal freedom, in direct opposition to aforementioned figures that pointed to a higher desire to online privacy among younger millennials.
Another interesting point of comparison is the virtually identical lack of confidence of both these age groups within online privacy. While the previous figures tell a narrative of younger millennials being more involved with different types of social networks and more protective of the information relayed over these communication mediums, both 18-24 year olds and 25-29 year olds agreed relatively equally with the statement, “I have control over my personal technology privacy.” As indicated by poll responses, only 33 percent of 18-24 year olds and 31 percent of 25-29 year olds agreed.
Breaking Down the Results
So why were younger millennials, who stated greater unwillingness for information collection from various communication methods, equally as insecure about their information on these outlets as their older counterparts? Perhaps it has something to do with growing social media use despite a relatively constant level of mistrust in technological privacy. Additional perks and peer pressure have brought more users to the social media world, and yet the increased use of social media has not caused the low confidence we have in our online privacy to rise in proportion. In fact, these results may demonstrate the decreasing importance of online privacy to users when making the initial “leap of faith” to social media, though not necessarily changing their fears of what lies on the other side.
As such, “control over personal technological privacy” may just be relatively less important when we decide what to sign up for. If anything, these trends have shown that increased social media use does not necessarily lend itself to more lax sentiments towards online privacy or to an increased sense of personal control over the information within these media: as more people put their lives online in pictures and posts, they are less willing to allow the government access to these growing reservoirs of personal information.