Exploring Risk, Privacy and the Impact of Social Media Usage with Undergraduates

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Younger adults increasingly use messaging apps, particularly auto-deleting (e.g. Snapchat) or anonymous (e.g. YikYak, Whisper) apps, according to current research. In this paper we will describe changes in patterns of use of these tools by undergraduate students at the University of Edinburgh, and discuss the context and possible motivations for this shift as well as exploring issues of risk, privacy and long-term impact on online profiles.

This paper draws upon the Managing Your Digital Footprint research project, reflecting on data collected through surveys in 2014 (n=587); 2015 (n=870); and 2016 (n=578). Questions on social media use and behaviours associated with personal online tracks and traces were explored across all three surveys, providing insight into shifts in adoption and use of these tools. Furthermore, the research project “A Live Pulse: Yik Yak in teaching learning and assessment at Edinburgh” (2016-17), will be introduced.

Adoption and use of anonymous/pseudonymous tools sit in a wider context that we believe is important. The most popular social media sites increasingly attracting older new users; major advertising campaigns embed these spaces as mainstream, rather than edgy or for the young. At the same time young people are increasingly exposed to cyber security messages at school and appear to be deliberately turning to niche and/or hidden social media sites to bond and communicate.

Measures like the UK Investigatory Powers Act (2016) are also making issues of surveillance, internet privacy and regulation a more pressing concern. As social media sites merge (e.g. Facebook acquiring WhatsApp and Instagram; Microsoft acquiring LinkedIn), as well as aggressive advertising (e.g. Google, Facebook), data use is becoming more visible. Anonymous/ pseudonymous sites appear to provide anonymity or ephemerality, and a degree of safety from surveillance (state, platform/advertiser, parental or employer), but we raise concerns about the etiquette and unfiltered expression in these spaces and perceived versus actual risks.

Our work highlights the need for Higher Education to take seriously the risk, privacy, and long-term impact of this type of anonymous/pseudonymous social media usage.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jul 2017
EventECSM17 - Mykolas Romeris University, Vilnius, Lithuania
Duration: 3 Jul 20174 Jul 2017



Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Social Media
  • Digital Footprint
  • Privacy
  • Undergraduates


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