After we heard about privacy concerns earlier this year, this digital nation has turned from a utopian dream to an Orwellian nightmare in the blink of a screen.
About the time I quit Facebook, the networking goliath announced new controls to safeguard the privacy of those that remained. According to the company, everything reasonable was being done to mend an enormous bucket known to leak streams of private data. In the past, the medium exposed to the world everything from private conversations to unlisted numbers to the candid pictures of Jon Favreau and Paris Hilton. Sadly, these two have never been snapped together.
The measures came too late for some online citizens who evacuated the homeland that sustained them for so long. Prominent IT pundit Leo LaPorte broadcast his Facebook retirement from his home computer. ”That’s it. It’s gone,” he said to the internet. ”And I think that’s the right thing to do.”
The vision of a man severing himself from the social network is strangely moving. As he clicked ”delete” he had the look of a newly diagnosed diabetic who would never again feast on baked goods.
We’ve seen a call for a sugar-free online diet, for a fast from those networks upon which so many of us have come to rely.
In fact, it’s regarded as less of a detox and more of an assisted social media suicide. Sites with names like ”Seppuku” and ”Diaspora” point to a dissatisfaction with Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, MySpace or any of the means by which we evolve our online reputations.
On the internet, trends flare and expire in a matter of hours. Often they don’t merit much attention. This suicide trend, however, is something a little bit different. The hot new thing online is not to give two hoots for the hot new thing online. It is, in fact, to seek asylum in the real world.
That Facebook had doubled its efforts in defending privacy had become irrelevant. Online citizen are well past the worry that others might see their happy snaps. We have entered into a moral panic about world domination by Facebook.
For some commentators, Facebook has emerged as the site of the new apocalypse; it’s become a bit like global warming with a fan page. Users are now aghast that Facebook has a sense of entitlement to our information and has possible plans to use it for profit.
To those who have long resisted the lure of social networking, this anxiety could all seem a bit strange. That any company might expose or use information we have liberally and willingly provided is, really, no great surprise.
A few short years ago, I encouraged my mother to join Facebook. ”I’ll show you how,” I said. She refused for two very good reasons. The first of which was her unwillingness to reprise the terrible mouse-fight we’d had after I gave her an email tutorial back in 1997.
The second had to do with her long experience as a consumer. Years ago, she had entered a competition at a department store. She never did win that bedroom ensemble. She was, however, harassed for years with offers of discounted hard goods by mail and by phone. “You give them your information and they never let up,” she said. That we presumed Facebook did not have the aggressive business reflex of a furniture salesman is probably a little naive. Of course, we knew it all along. My mother knew it, I knew it and any of the bright online commentators currently buoyed by outrage at privacy infractions knew it even better than us.
I suspect that this anger is a case of what a shrink might call ”projection”. The Facebook backlash is an elaborate refusal to acknowledge our own terrible behaviour.
In 500 billion minutes each month, we kill time and traditional social networks on Facebook. Here our high-speed online reading of social situations has become more cursory and our responses more rushed. All the while, our faculty for snark increases.
Online at incredible speed, we become less mindful, we become more aggressive and, as my own embarrassing excursions on the social media site Twitter have evinced, we are steeped in regret almost as soon as we hit return.
Without the cues and consequence provided by real life contact, our empathy drains from us like acid from a bad car battery.
With fewer inhibitions and greater scope for expression, we have become quite unpleasant. It is not uncommon to read terrible, terrible things about oneself and others online. We have lost our civility. The loss of our privacy is the last of our concerns.