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It's a small town, know what I mean?

Technology Review: The Changing Nature of Privacy on Facebook:

TR: A lot of people wonder why it matters if companies share personal data. How are people affected by privacy violations?

DB: The easiest one to explain is the case of teachers. They have a role to play during the school day and there are times and places where they have lives that are not student-appropriate. Online, it becomes a different story. Facebook has now made it so that you can go and see everybody's friends regardless of how private your profile is. And the teachers are constantly struggling with the fact that, no matter how obsessively they've tried to make their profiles as private as possible, one of their friends can post a photo from when they were 16 and drinking or doing something else stupid, and all of a sudden, kids bring it into school. We want teachers to be able to have a teacher relationship to our kids that is different from what the teacher has to their intimates. Yet the technology puts the teacher constantly at risk.

What's going on here is that Facebook and other social networking sites have made it impossible for people to live a double life any more. You can't be a socially conservative role model in the daytime and then go out and raise hell at night in the local bars. Or even the bars five hours away by air, because the unsleeping eye of the Internet is everywhere. It's just like living in a small town, where everybody knows who you are and what you've been up to.

Information wants to be free, and unsurprisingly, the information that most wants to be free is embarrassing, titillating stuff that makes life difficult for teachers and other people who are supposed to be setting an example for da yoots of America. The easy answer to this problem is not to do dumb, embarrassing shit in public, but that's not going to go down very well with a generation that's been told they can do anything they want because there really aren't any consequences in their well-padded middle class world. Sorry, kids. Playtime is over. Once you take the teaching job, it's time for you to quit entering the wet T-shirt contests, getting shitfaced in the bars, climbing all over each other in public, and all that other stupid nonsense.

Of course, if you've already sent your BF/GF/whatever a picture of your nekkid boobies or swinging cod through a gross abuse of cell phone technology, and that person proceeded to share it with the Internet (or their closest friends, what's the difference?) It's too late for you. Better re-think that teaching career, or for that matter any career requiring discretion, common sense, and/or a good reputation. Have you considered a career in the fast food industry? I hear McDonald's has some pretty good fringe benefits.

People like the well-meaning Danah Boyd, quoted above, are trying to lock the barn door long after the horses have left and the barn has burned down. Social networks exist primarily to sell ads, and they do this by noticing what their members like. Thinking they're going to stop doing that, even if you call it "invading users' privacy" and stand around yelling "Bad Facebook! Bad!" displays a sad naivete about how the Internet and social networks in particular work, to say nothing of business.


May. 3rd, 2010 11:14 pm (UTC)
This is an outstanding example of technology, especially information technology, rapidly outpacing human awareness. That's not just an excuse, and it's going to continue to be a problem for quite some time, probably until the next generation has grown up, and may go on even after that (people often being the sort of unthinking idiots they so frequently are). "Once it's up on the Web, it's up there forever" isn't just a saying: it's true, and the sooner everyone who accesses the Web for any reason learns that, the better. Which includes teachers. Facebook is entitled to do its business the way it does it, though it should have given more warnings to its customers about that. A far better -- and older -- saying is, Caveat emptor: "Let the buyer beware."
May. 4th, 2010 02:00 am (UTC)
Pretty much. People need to get used to the fact that whatever they do is going to be all over the Web in no time flat if it's the least bit interesting - just like in the old days, everybody in town knew if you did something dumb. Cities don't give you anonymity any more, and it's an open question whether city air makes you free any more.
May. 4th, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)
It's going to take a while for the culture to evolve enough for most people to realize that. And, of course, teenagers being what they are, adolescents + Web = probable trouble, because there's always some adolescent idiot who has sex with a friend and posts photographs from those encounters on Facebook, or some other social medium. What has to happen is for the word about the trouble you can get into like that to get around in schools in a form teenagers can believe. "The hard way" is always going to be the most solid learning experience, unfortunately.
May. 4th, 2010 02:58 am (UTC)
May. 4th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC)
It's going to be an interesting century.