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Considerations of Privacy in Connecting Youth to Digital Literacy Spaces

By Jayne C. Lammers
 | Oct 27, 2017

Digital Privacy My ongoing research into young people’s online writing practices, particularly their fanfiction writing, has led me to encourage parents and teachers to celebrate and facilitate such pursuits, rather than to fear or block them. My enthusiasm and advocacy to help adults see the literacy potential of online writing communities has been echoed by other researchers, including Mimi Ito, who recognizes the need to work against the perception that youth participation in online spaces has no value.

While I remain convinced that online writing communities, such as and, provide youth with access to passionate and responsive audiences for their writing, a recent conversation at the Digital Media & Learning Conference 2017 has me thinking about privacy with renewed interest. After all, we live in a time when there’s no shortage of alarming reports of data breaches that have adults scrambling to protect their personal and financial information.

Notions of privacy in online communities and social networks are complicated indeed, as sharing information and making connections with others remain the central practices in these spaces. To add to the already abundant advice about the importance of teaching young people about digital citizenship or good digital hygiene, I offer these two specific actions to take when considering whether or not to recommend that youth participate in a particular digital space.

Read the terms of service: While many of us never bother to read the terms of service when we sign up on a website, these documents offer valuable insights into how protected youth are (or are not) when they post online. Before connecting your students to an online platform, review the site’s terms of service documentation to discover what types of data are collected and how that data are used. In particular, pay attention to whether the site collects personally identifiable information, and, if so, whether or not they sell that data to third parties as a matter of practice.

Rely on expert evaluations: Interpreting the legalese of terms of service documentation can be challenging. Thankfully, Common Sense Education’s Privacy Initiative does the difficult interpretation work for parents and teachers. Through their growing database of privacy evaluations, Common Sense rates websites, apps, and other educational technologies along dimensions of safety, privacy, security, and compliance. The resulting evaluations, such as this example, help adults make informed decisions about the potential privacy implications of youth participation in a variety of digital spaces.  

As our literacy practices become increasingly digital and networked, concerns about whether and how to protect one’s privacy will remain important topics for policy and practice. It is my hope that literacy teachers can make use of these recommendations as they include privacy considerations as an important factor when deciding how best to integrate digital spaces into their instruction. 

Jayne Lammers HeadshotJayne C. Lammers is an associate professor and director of the secondary English teacher preparation program at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education. She can also be reached on Twitter.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG)

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