'Super Log-Off'? Teens Bring Street Smarts to Facebook

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For some teenagers, survival doesn't mean watching your back only when you're out on the street -- it means making sure your guard is up on the Internet too.

Many teenagers already go to great lengths to protect themselves from spying parents and other authorities online. But social media researcher danah boyd (who prefers to go lowercase) said some high-risk teens -- who come from unstable family backgrounds and jump between high schools -- are using innovative strategies to manage their online identities.

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Facebook post gets student suspended

"They're street kids. They know the street, they know how to stay tough, they know how to make life work for their situation, and their situation is rough," said boyd, a Microsoft social media researcher and fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society who studies teen online behavior.

Mikalah, for example, an 18-year-old teenager interviewed by boyd, has already hopped between five high schools, and doesn't just log out of Facebook when she goes offline. She deactivates her account altogether.

She knows that deactivating won't delete her account and its contents, but it will prevent others from posting on her wall, sending her messages or reading her profile.

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Teen Controls Facebook Content to Minimize 'Drama'

Boyd said it's Mikalah's way of saying, "I don't want people to be able to search for me, I don't want people to be able to look over my profile unless I know that I'm online and what's going on and I can have control over it."

In a blog post on the topic, boyd said that among some gay men, who do the same thing, the tactic is called the "super log-off."

Shamika, another teenager interviewed by boyd (both names have been changed to protect the students' identities) uses another technique some call "white-walling" or "white-washing."

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While she doesn't deactivate her account every time she signs out of Facebook, she does delete every status update, wall post and "like" soon after it's posted.

Boyd said Shamika deletes old status updates every time she posts a new one and deletes friends' comments after she reads them. When asked why she takes these somewhat unusual steps on Facebook, boyd said Shamika replied, "too much drama."

Teens Get Creative to Block Authorities Online

"She doesn't want people going back into her past because they are taking something from the past and misconstruing something in the present," boyd said.

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While the two girls are friends, boyd said they each think the other's tactic is somewhat odd. But they also understand that, essentially, they're doing the same thing.

"They have adults in their business all the time and in their cases, that usually means officials. So we're talking law enforcement, we're talking social services, we're talking people who are, as far as they're concerned, are in their business and won't leave them alone and aren't there to be helpful," boyd said.

In their eyes, the institutions created to support them, aren't supporting them, boyd said, so they've had to develop creative ways to protect themselves, on the street and in the digital world.


And, she added, given that the teens must rely on public computers to connect to the Internet, they sometimes have to wait days between Facebook sessions. All the more time for someone to leave unwanted messages on their profile pages or read up on their personal lives.

"These teens are thinking through ways in which they can make their worlds work," boyd said.

Boyd emphazied that these examples were just a couple of particularly innovative teen approaches to Facebook management and weren't necessarily indicative of a trend.

But she said that they are similar to other tactics regularly employed by teenagers on Facebook, for example, college-bound high school students changing their names to hide from potential recruiters or teenagers communicating through song lyrics to keep spying parents at bay.

"It's all about power dynamics," boyd said. "It's all about saying I'm not going to let you have control over me just because you can get access through technology."