Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gratuitous Insight Into Our Personal Lives

Since social media hit the web people have become increasingly carefree about releasing the details of their personal lives. It seems that with every occurring activity in a person's day comes the need to inform the world about it via status changes on Facebook. Things that were once shared in private are no longer. “I'm going to the store to buy tampons” or “Just saw the doctor, turns out I have chlamydia” have become information accessible by lists populated by more people than many small countries. These lists are known as the “Friends List,” and are made up of current friends, past acquaintances, and for many people, complete strangers who are attractive enough to make the cut. We now know at all times what these friends are doing, where they are and even who they're with. The most mundane of every day behaviors appear on status updates constantly. I could tell you what most of my Facebook friends had for dinner last night, or even when they last showered, but I'd prefer to avoid anything that grotesque. Because of Facebook I can figure out which friends are dating, whom they are dating, and of those relationships, I could even determine the happy couples from those on the fritz. Status updates have become voyeuristic, allowing us a chance to see into the goings-on of other people's lives. It's sort of like reality TV, but even better because we know these people.

Status posts, however, are just the surface of the problem. Users, especially college students, frequently post pictures that could be detrimental if seen by future employers, or by parents. Many students post pictures of drinking shots with friends, smoking from suspicious paraphernalia, or even kissing complete strangers while being unquestionably intoxicated. To make matters worse, people are allowed to comment on these photographs, such as, “We were so fucking stoned last night,” which completely removes any suspicions that may have been had about the smoke. Comments similar to this can also be posted on a person's wall, and users have no control over the content a friend might share on their page.

Gratuitous over sharing on Facebook has lead to many complications in people's lives. Publicly releasing the details of our personal lives is generally not a good idea. Many Facebook users have been denied jobs because of inappropriate content discovered on their Facebook page. A prospective employer is probably not interested in someone who posts a picture of themselves with a beer in each hand, a cigarette hanging from their lips and eyes that appear to have a horrific case of conjunctivitis.

Another concern related to habitual over sharing on Facebook is one of safety and security. You might think that posting “Off to Mexico with my beau for the week” is harmless, but don't be surprised if your apartment has been robbed by the time you get home. This has actually happened. By announcing that you will be gone for the week is like an open invitation to those “friends” who may envy some of your belongings, and provide them with an accurate time frame to pull off an unexpected heist.

Most of the privacy issues on Facebook up to this point have been created by the users themselves, not the website. People have chosen to share their personal lives, they have not been forced to do so. There isn't a need to announce to our friends, “worst hangover ever” or “I accidentally cut myself shaving." Also, we can choose which pictures we would like to post. For instance, I went out Saturday night, and posted my pictures this morning. The photos from early in the evening are on my Facebook page, and the ones where half of my face is sagging and you can visibly see me slurring my words, I'll save those elsewhere to show my friends in private. Facebook has, however, implemented a new system that no longer allows us to keep our personal lives off of Facebook, if we agree to participate.

This new system will assign users with an @Facebook.com email address, but beware, this is not actually an email account. Facebook intends to use this new tool to catalog conversations between two friends through all forms of digital media. The appeal is that all communication between you and that friend will be organized and archived into one location for your convenience. Whether you communicated with this person using Facebook, email, instant messaging, or even text messaging, it will not matter. Each conversation will be loaded into one archive per friend contacted, and each archive will contain any conversation had with that person via digital media and text messaging. The privacy issue is incredibly concerning. In order to gather all of these conversations, users will have to allow Facebook access to all of their email accounts, social media accounts, instant messaging accounts, and even text messages from their cell phones. The conversations had through these devices will all be saved by Facebook in order to be archived, which is supposed to provide convenience, while carelessly risking our privacy. While people continuously post private matters publicly on Facebook, there are still many personal matters discussed in confidence through email and text messaging. I can only imagine what content Facebook users have deemed only appropriate for texting, and if any of these issues were ever hacked and released, I would expect to see a dramatic increase in divorce and suicide.

The whole @Facebook.com thing feels a little too “Big Brother” for my comfort level. Personally, I'd prefer Facebook didn't archive my conversations, I can keep track of them just fine on my own, thank you. If these archives were ever made public, or breached by hackers, the impact could be disastrous to the global public. Right now the exposure of our personal lives on Facebook is in our hands; let's keep it that way.

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