Languages Magazine

How Teens Hack Language

By Expectlabs @ExpectLabs

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Recent research from Pew’s Internet & American Life Project says that 58% of teenage Facebook users dupe their authority figures through language laced with inside jokes and references. For example, posting song lyrics to represent a specific mood is a way users are able to share something personal that they wouldn’t feel comfortable making explicit.

This practice, called social steganography, was first researched by Danah Boyd at Microsoft. Boyd recently wrote a response to Pew’s research in which she explains the linguistic act in more detail:

“A comment might look like it means one thing, when in fact it means something quite different. By cloaking their accessible content, teens reclaim power over those who they know who are surveilling them. This practice is still only really emerging en masse, so I was delighted that Pew could put numbers to it. I should note that, as Instagram grows, I’m seeing more and more of this. A picture of a donut may not be about a donut.”

While these methods are surely not a surprise, they do hold interesting implications for ad targeting. A posted picture of a cat may not mean that a user is truly interested in cats, and therefore, products related to cats. Social steganography is mostly aimed at hiding things from parents, but its ubiquity may create an incentive for ad targeters to better understand the different ways people talk on Facebook.

(via MIT TechReview)



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