German youth fear Facebook

September 10, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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So in July I went to Dresden to facilitate a ‘media team’ of young people participating in the youth pre-assembly of the Lutheran World Federation General Assembly, which happens every ten years or so.   We had about 11 members to our team ages 18-30, from Hungary, Kenya, Rwanda, Madagascar, Nigeria, India, Papua New Guinea, the US and one German.   They worked hard to produce content for and I loved them all.  To do a training like this is to see the hunger of young people across the world to create meaningful content and use technology no matter how much money or schooling they have had.

A few lessons I took away:

  • While blogging at a conference is fun, its good to produce a daily newsletter for the people who are not online.  Our main target audience was the conference participants, who had a full day of meetings and no time to get online.  So — the old fashioned paper hand out was still a good idea to create buzz, enhance reputation and drive traffic to the blog.
  • There was a huge interest in video, which is not my area, and it was very hard to manage as an amateur youth media team.  A professional is definitely needed to lead that and do only that if that is an important end goal.
  • Create ahead of time your strategy of how you will distribute the online media you are producing — e.g., write all your blogging friends and press offices and work out a home page highlight at least a week BEFORE the event starts.

Mid way through the conference when our blog traffic was not going up enough I changed tactic.  Instead of urging participants to go to, I told them to go to our Facebook page. They were already going to Facebook, so it was easy enough to get them to go to our lwfyouth page there… and then they would hopefully post an update, tag or comment and then jump over to the blog.  Asking them to visit the blog directly was too big a step of behaviour change in an environment where there was not a lot of time to go online.

So to do that I made a passionate plea to the plenary asking  people to tag themselves in the pictures we posted on FB (everyone loves pictures!).   This was a trick to drive traffic to FB and then the blog.  The photo tagging continues months later…   But the bigger result was getting the German youth attending the conference all riled up.  They came to me and said that they had discussed it as a group and asked that we moderate a forum on if Lutherans of the world should use FB at all?  At this point I was dead tired and generally not enthused about the German culture which seems to shun any form of PR.   I could not think of anything better to say than, Facebook is here, get over it, my job is marketing, I know what I am doing, we have quality control here. Luckily a friend of mine interpretting gave a standard more diplomatic speech in defense of Facebook.   I asked the girl who was giving me an earful if she had a Facebook account?  Yes she says, but she uses a fake name and only uses it to talk to her friends in Latin America.  Her main concern was that a future employer would see photos of her online.

But the incident still bothers me to this day, so I was interested to read German blogger Peter Bihr’s account of giving a workshop on social media to German youth, he writes:

On a side note, I have to say I really enjoyed particularly the discussions with these students. We talked a lot about privacy on social networks and the implications of using these online services. I was surprised on more than one occasion: Not a lot of the participants use smartphones, which may be a budget thing given they’re all still studying. The crowd was much more critical of online social networking than I expected. (There was a strong split in the group, with those seeing chances rather than risks on one side and those highly critical of social networks on the other.)

Two things became very clear, though: (1) Just like German society overall this group had a significant part of online critics (with varying degrees of informed argumentation). (2) All of them are acutely – almost painfully – aware of the role of privacy and how it’s being affected by voluntary participation in online sharing behavior (social networking, Twitter etc), involuntary sharing (government involvement) and commercialization (all major actors are international corporations).

While I wished the overall discourse (on a societal level) about the complex issues of privacy/ownership/control of data online was based on a more informed basis, it’s very clear that we’ll be having this discussion for awhile to come. And that’s good: Keep thinking, discussing, debating. Just please make sure to stay away from panic and fear driven rhetoric as well as hyperbole. And if you happen to encounter such arguments, feel free to drop in some facts and see the fear go away.

My pursuit to understand social media in Europe continues, but  you can see we have some work to do.


1 Comment »

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  1. Thanks for the shout-out! Just in case you’re wondering: the bafflement regarding the approach to privacy that seems so widespread in Germany isn’t related to any kind of inter-cultural barrier. I was born and raised in Germany and still don’t understand it.

    However, just because the opponents of sharing information online (sometimes rightly so, sometimes just under the cover of privacy concerns) criticize Facebook & co are more vocal than those who appreciate those services doesn’t mean they really are necessarily the majority.

    The numbers aren’t all that clear, but according to one pretty reliable study (ARD/ZDF Online Studie 2010), about 50 million of those above 14 years old are “online”. Of those, about 40% use online communities at least occasionally, although I’d like to add that the phrasing there is so vague that I’m fairly confident numbers are actually higher. (Other studies rank users of online social networks well beyond 50% of onliners.)

    So even while those willing to embrace new technology aren’t necessarily as outspoken about it, it doesn’t mean they aren’t around 😉

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