Social media has revolutionized how we work and communicate, but questions about privacy continue to perplex government and industry leaders.

Logos of social media apps on a smartphone, 6 June 2018 (Silas Stein/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)

News-Decoder has teamed up with Britain’s Podium.me to produce an eight-episode podcast about the world’s toughest problems. Today: Social Media

By Bethan Ashmead Latham

Back at school, reporter Ellie Clifford remembers being taught that what you put on social media could limit future job prospects. Then things changed: social media became integrated into workflows, consumer attention-spans shortened and intuitive platforms turned social spaces into business tools. 

Ellie, who studies broadcast radio and works in production, volunteered to investigate how young people think about their online presence because she works on creating content for distribution online.  “It’s all about storytelling, and while there is an issue with filters, if you think about it as a mechanism to tell stories with artistic flare, then it’s a really great tool.”

Then things changed again as social media became an important part of people’s personal and professional lives. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has forced both consumers and companies to rethink how data is managed.

Ellie sat down with mass communication students Liberty Phelps and Amber Miller, who present a radio show called “Red, Red, Whine” and rely on social media to promote and develop their projects. She also met Malak Obaidi, a social media influencer who has found working partnerships through her YouTube channel and Instagram account, and who does presenting and social media takeovers to help companies reach audiences — work that didn’t exist 15 years ago.

Podcast Transcript

Nolwazi Mjwara

Welcome to The Kids Are Alright, the podcast the explores big, global issues from a young and fresh perspective.

I’m Nolwazi Mjwara. Originally from South Africa, I moved to Paris, France three years ago to pursue a master’s degree. I’m a news enthusiast and have always been interested in what young people think and are doing to address some of the things I read about in the news.

Before we begin, here’s a message from my colleague Megha Thomas who helped me produce this podcast.

Megha Thomas: Hey there! Thanks for tuning in to today’s episode. The Kids Are Alright was produced by a team of students and aspiring journalists interested in learning more about some of the biggest issues facing the global community. From social media fame to the Venezuelan crisis to climate change, we’ve reached out to young people and experienced professionals alike in order to provide you with different perspectives on hot topics.

We hope you enjoy it! Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @kidsalrightnews or on Instagram @kidsarealrightnews.

Megha Thomas

Nolwazi Mjwara: How many times in the past 72 hours have you given out your name? How about your email address? Your phone number? You probably wouldn’t give this out to any stranger on the street, but many of us provide personal information online without evening thinking about it. 

In today’s episode, we’ll turn to reporter Ellie Clifford as she speaks with young people using the internet for both personal and professional reasons, to find out how much thought they give to their online presence.

Ellie Clifford

Ellie Clifford: My name’s Ellie and this year, after the General Data Protection Act came into effect in the UK, it got me thinking: the internet has become such a huge part of our lives, but how much thought do people give to what they’re putting online? And do those making money on the internet even care?

I met up with students Libby Phelps and Amber Miller to discuss how they use the internet in the era of data protection.

Amber Miller: I’m Amber. I’m at Goldsmiths, studying Media and Communications. I’m going into my third year, and I specialize in radio, doing documentaries and stuff like that, and broadcasting itself.

Amber Miller
Liberty Phelps

Liberty Phelps:  My name is Liberty Phelps. I’m at Goldsmiths University, and I’m studying Media and Communications. And on my course, we do documentaries and dramas at the moment.

Ellie Clifford: How often would you say you use the internet today, and what do you use it for?

Libby Phelps: I think I, I must sit on it for about maybe three hours in total, which is really not very good at all, but I constantly throughout the day scroll through Instagram. I use Twitter a lot, and I use it for like fun, like pleasure. I also use it for news as well, but I check my emails a hell of a lot, which is I guess the internet, and Facebook Messenger is my main kind of uses at the moment.

Amber Miller: Yeah, I think I do use the internet a lot. Like even when I’m bored, I’ll just go onto it, like you said, go on Instagram, scroll through it. But I’m, as you said as well, just constantly checking emails, going onto Facebook, because there’s loads of groups on there which you can look through.

Ellie Clifford: So do you know much about the new GDPR regulations, and do you know what they stand for?

Libby Phelps: I don’t actually, I don’t want to admit that I know anything because it’s probably going to be really wrong about the GDPR regulations. But I thought it was to do with your — I’m sure it was something about how, not about cookies and things like that, but all your data that different sites save even if it’s just like a clothing website or retail kind of things. But I thought it was to do with that.

Amber Miller: Oh, is this like when there was a privacy policy online? Like I don’t actually know what GDPR actually stands for, which makes me seem really stupid. I thought it was growth something. But I know that there was a lot of sites you go onto, like Topshop and that – I remember getting an email through saying that their privacy policy had been changed – no clue what the change was, but I could unsubscribe to the email if I wanted to.

Ellie Clifford: So GDPR is talking about kind of how much of your data companies own. So, for example, if you take out an insurance policy for your mobile phone, for example, they can sell your data onto other people. So the point of GDPR is basically saying that you have to opt in with intent so that people will be able to use your data. So you know how, before you’d have tick boxes and it would be like tick here if you don’t want to receive offers. They can’t do that anymore, they have to say tick here if you want to receive offers because the idea is you’re giving informed consent.

Amber Miller: That’s really scary.

Ellie Clifford: What do you think about that? How companies can sort of hold your data?

Amber Miller: It’s quite scary to know that these companies have so much data on you and they know so much about you. Yeah, it’s like you’re giving your whole identity away to some sort of company.

Libby Phelps: Yeah, I think you want like a level of trust so if you use, if you use one website like Facebook, you want to just for them to have your information and no one else, but I don’t know why we should. We don’t know anyone who runs these places, you know, who’s working for them, so why on earth should we trust them? Why should I put my information in in the first place. So you kinda just get sucked into it really.

Ellie Clifford: Do you guys ever think about what information you’re putting online?

Amber Miller: No, I don’t really. It’s  quite. I should think about it, but you just kind of, I don’t know, you just do it automatically without thinking what you’re doing. You’ll put something on Instagram, like the place that you’re at, and you don’t think that, oh, this is now online. People can see what you’re doing. They know where you are.

Libby Phelps: I remember at school, we had like an assembly or something when they were talking about social media, and they said, don’t do things like put your location. If you’re going on holiday or something, don’t put that you’re going to the airport because then people know your house is, you know, free and open, and, “Go on, go burgle it!” But I think I, like, I put my locations because of what we’re doing, and we have to use social media quite a lot to pick ourselves up and everything, and to look like you’re really social and you go out to all these places. That’s why I put the locations in, but I don’t think about the consequences very often, which isn’t very good. I probably should.

Amber Miller: Like my mum, she uses Facebook all the time. She’s like an addict. And she checks in to every place she goes to like, “Oh, I’m at the supermarket,” and it, like, checks it in for her, so to think that the whole world knows where she is, it’s quite scary, so this is something my mum should listen to.

Nolwazi Mjwara

Nolwazi Mjwara: So after listening to your conversation with Libby and Amber, it was clear to me that many our age understand the risks of having a presence on the internet, whether that’s having several social media accounts or using apps that require personal information, like your location. But they accept this because at this point, the internet is vital to the way they communicate and work.

So why have you reached out to Malak?

Ellie Clifford: Libby and Amber both seem to use the internet like any other person — for social media, keeping up with friends, family, the news. The basics for anyone who has a smartphone nowadays.

They’re only just starting to use it more seriously for work. But I wanted to speak with someone who has used the internet to help build their career, to construct a life that would’t have been possible without the internet. So I sat down with Malak Obaidi, a YouTuber from London.

Ellie Clifford

Ellie Clifford: We’ve come to the park, so you might hear some sirens in the background, but we’re talking about the internet today. So, can you start by telling me who you are and a little bit about yourself?

Malak Obaidi

Malak Obaidi: I’m Malak. I am a media-obsessed person! I love radio. I love television. I love movies. I love acting. I do a lot of media-centered work, and the internet is my life. 

When I was 16, I started a YouTube channel, and obviously YouTube is a huge platform these days for making movies, making videos and putting yourself out there. So having that YouTube channel and over the years I’ve grown to understand that the internet is so vital when it comes to sharing your work and trying to get exposure. It’s so important to get that exposure, and that’s what YouTube has helped me to do. 

And then, I think more are we seeing the fact that we are becoming our own brands, and you are your own brand, and Instagram helps that a lot in terms of selling yourself. You can really manipulate how you want to, you, yourself, to be seen with your Instagram profile, so I think it really, it’s parallel with the fact that you’re exposing yourself through Instagram to kind of get that, your personality, across and your work as well.

Ellie Clifford: Do you think the internet has changed the way we interact with each other?

Malak Obaidi: Definitely. I think the world seems more connected on the surface. I think deep down the world seems more self-conscious and paranoid. Obviously being connected, you — it’s a stronger sense of community. But then as an individual, you are prone to these, the risks of being self-conscious in terms of your image, your body image. Also, if there’s a view that you have that the majority doesn’t agree with, you know, that’s a, that’s a big issue as an individual.

So I think that it goes both ways. There are downfalls, there are strong points of being more connected via the internet.

I think, also, economically there’s, you know, people are being — people are rewarded more for the work that they’re putting in, in terms of blogs and videos that they put out, you know. You get that exposure. You get paid for it even, so that’s helpful.

Ellie Clifford:  And I think when we were younger, a lot of people kind of said to us you know, “Be careful what you put online because you don’t want your employer to see you.” If you’re going for a job interview they might look you up — what do you think about that kind of idea, and actually do you think it’s a benefit to put your life on the internet now?

Malak Obaidi: The people that are most careful about what they post on Instagram or on social media are the people that seem like they’re not the ones that care, if that makes sense? Basically, because of the fact that when you, when you expose yourself, you want to be seen in a particular way and you don’t want to give too much away or you don’t want to give everything away. For example, the negative aspects. So when you’re posting stuff out there as a media influencer, you’ve got such an important role, you’ve got such a big following, you want to make sure that you’re not putting anything out there that you don’t want to regret.

Nolwazi Mjwara: Next we decided to speak to George Afori-Addo,  a social media whiz.

Nolwazi Mjwara

Ellie Clifford: One thing that Malak mentioned was about how people are kind of starting to make themselves into brands. It’s like, you know, you think really hard about what you put on Instagram because you’re creating this persona that you’re selling almost to get them engaged. How do you think it works that way? Or do you think that’s another indicator that we’ve gone too far?

George Afori-Addo

George Afori-Addo: Well, you just need to look at the Kardashians because what, what is their brand? It’s them. If you think about it, the model side as well, there’s a lot of models on Instagram. So people have jumped on that, and people have made a lot of money by putting up salacious pictures of themselves. So can you criticize them for that? Not really,  because what’s the difference between them doing it themselves on Insta or Vogue magazine doing it? I don’t — business is business. You’re selling a product, you’re selling a product. So for me, it’s all down to the fact that it’s down to consumerism. So has it gone too far? No! It’s just a different form of selling things to you.

The thing is the thing with social media is, Instagram has changed things dramatically. It depends how personal you want to be. It feels like the more personal you are, the more people buy into you and the more followers you get. So you need that balance. But again, you open doors that you may not want to open because you’re public, and the media gets hold of that, then they’re like, “We want to do this review” — you seem to lose your privacy very easily so you need to have, you need to have a balance of what you want.

Ellie Clifford: There’s lots of great things about the internet. It helps connect us, educate us, and it’s become a brilliant way for people to make money. But it’s not without its downsides. And people need to think about how important privacy is to them.

Nolwazi Mjwara: You’ve been listening to an episode of The Kids Are Alright. It was a production from Podium.me and News-Decoder. Tell us what you thought of this episode by tweeting us @kidsalrightnews

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