WRITTEN BY CHRISS W. STREET
The revelations by former National Security Agency operative Edward Snowden that the United States government has been spying on all Americans may be causing a permanent political shift by the American “Millennial” generation (youth born between 1980 and the year 2000) away from President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Contrary to the main-stream-media’s claims that “Millennials don’t worry about online privacy,” research demonstrates young people are extremely sensitive about who has access and can engage in mischief with their digital lives. As Snowden’s spying disclosures continue, the blow-back against Obama and the Democratic Party is alienating this future dominant voting bloc.
As Millennials have reached voting age they favored John Kerry by 9% in 2004, Barack Obama by 34% in 2008 and Obama again in 2012 by 23%. There were 64 million Millennials of voting age in 2012, but by the 2020 all 90 million Millennials will be eligible to vote and will probably determine who wins the Presidential election.
The University of Southern California’s Center for the Digital Future conducted surveys in April to compare the differences in the opinions of younger and older Americans about their right to digital privacy:
- Both American Millennials ages 18-34 by 70% and those over-35 people by 77% that “no one should ever be allowed to have access to my personal data or web behavior.”
- Only 25% of Millennials agreed with the statement, “I’m ok with trading some of my personal information in exchange for more relevant advertising.” Among the over-35 group set, it was 19%.
- The most dramatic difference found was that 56% of Millennials would share their location with companies in exchange for coupons or deals, compared to 42% of the over-35 population. But that’s still nearly half who did not agree that they would do so.
- The poll found that Millennials are more frequent users of social networking sites, by 48% vs. 20% of the over-35 population. But that should hardly be a surprise since social media was designed by youth and can hardly serve as prima facie evidence of a lack of concern about privacy.
A 2010 study by researchers at UC Berkeley School of Law, found that 83% of Millennials had refused to give information to a business and 82% believed that anyone uploading their photo or video should first be required to get their permission. Americans 35 years were only marginally more opposed to such information sharing.
As journalist Wendy Grossman suggested regarding the future millennial voters, “teens certainly do value their privacy; it’s just that their threat model is their parents.” Teens may not be as worried about the government or companies, because many do not have the historical knowledge or perspective to worry about those “threats.” But they do live under constant surveillance by their increasingly “helicopter-hovering” parents.
Most young people have not been within hierarchical organizations or other structures of power, and they have not learned how various privacy violations can reverberate across time and within professional communities. But teens are engaged in a process of identity formation that involves not only exploring different concepts of self, but presenting such identities to others. This is something that teens have always done—but today it’s done electronically. That is why identity experimentation today has bigger privacy consequences than for past generations.
Social media uses sophisticated techniques to trick Millennials into expecting they are communicating with only a small set of people. When in reality, social media corporations own and archive all the communications that have ever moved across their platforms and sell the data to the highest bidders. That is why the revelations by Snowden that the Obama Administration conspired with social media corporations to get unlimited access to users digital lives have become such a betrayal to Millennials.
Thanks to Snowden, every Millennial now knows that Uncle Sam, just like 1984’s Big Brother, is trolling all the servers of America’s largest internet and media corporations. With disclosures that the U.S. government may be surreptitiously turning on the cameras and microphones to spy on Millennials with their own digital devices, the youth’s monolithic support of Obama and the Democratic Party may be over.
CHRISS STREET & PAUL PRESTON
“The Agenda 21 Radio Talk Show”
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