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It's Choose Privacy Week, and this year's focus is on raising awareness of tracking mechanism used by the sites we visit. But teens might challenge those cookies and algorithms. One strategy I've observed them using more and more in the digital realm: split personalities.' But unlike the depiction of Sybil's bifurcation, these teens tend to stick closer to their chronological ages and societal stations. It's the connections that vary.

Some teens carry a second cell phone, the one they would surrender if it was "taken up" in class. The trend towards alternate social media presences demands the same sort of deliberation and foresight.

Many have multiple twitter accounts, and the conversations that ensue because of that can be interesting:

Teen A: "He just tweeted that out."

Teen B: "From which account? Oh, I'm not even following THAT one."

Have you noticed the following?:

  • Teens with multiple facebook or twitter accounts -- ' one for the relatives, one for school friends, one for teachers and other adults like admissions officers, who are connecting with potential applicants more and more through social media. Watching a teen try to figure out which profile they've friended you within can be quite interesting. Also, I think this could really potentially inflate the number of teens who are actually using social media sites.
  • Snapchat with its peer-to-peer ephemeral photosharing is just one app enabling more teens to connect exclusively with a smaller cohort of peers. I've noticed teens seem very leery of who they connect with on this application, which I think it probably a consequence of past facebook "overfriending."
  • Having a alternate facebook profile using your middle name as your last name is one trend that seems popular among the young people with whom I work. It's almost a test of intimacy -- who knows you middle name?
  • Students who game or cosplay may have entirely separate profiles related to those activities. One of my students showed me the facebook world of Hetalia, and it was beyond flabbergasting.

All this splitting enables youth services librarians to start a dialog about privacy and networked other issues as well. What anxieties and cautionary tales lead teens to see the sorts of conversations and connections they want with their peers as counter to establishing an official, if scrubbed, "digital footprint?"

As those of us with separate professional and personal social media accounts can attest, maintaining multiple online presences can be complicated and sometimes fatiguing. Some twitter apps support more than one account, but that flies in the face of facebook's functionality and "real name" policies. How can librarians working with teens help them juggle these simultaneous presences and ensure that we make it into the most important profile rather than the throw-away one for far-flung relatives?

About Wendy Stephens

Librarian at Cullman High School, Cullman, Alabama

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