Social Media and Privacy

There's been quite a bit of discussion in various media about the growth of social media like Facebook and Twitter and the implications for privacy. A lot of the discussion has been fairly negative, and quite a few people have been complaining about how terrible such services are at stripping individuals of their privacy without consent, but I think many people have missed the point.

In the old days, if you had a message you wanted to get across to a large number of people, at first, the only way to do it was to go out and shout in the town square. As far as your voice could be heard, people received your message. Later came the printing press which allowed somewhat more subversive behaviour, but then later again came radio and television which put things out in the open again. The internet is only the latest form of communication technology, and social media has added interactivity and networking to the internet medium just as talk back radio and TV chat shows like Oprah have tried to do with their respective media.

In this respect, Facebook, Twitter and so on are nothing new, but what is new is the democratisation of being open to public scrutiny. In the past we relied on paparazzi, or occasionaly jilted ex-lovers to expose the private lives of celebrities, but now we can all become our own celebrities - and if we're not careful, our own paparazzi, dishing the dirt on ourselves in a way that in the past, grubby tabloids paid big money for.

Social media is a fantastic tool for getting a message out to a huge number of people. Unfortunately it doesn't matter whether that message is that you're trying to promote world peace, or that you're a drunken idiot. Social media does not invade our privacy, as we choose to use it. Sometimes certain services do make some of their privacy options obscure, but as a user, you should assume that what you publish online is something that all the world can see, and if that might embarrass you, you should refrain from publishing the material online.

Quite frankly, I don't want to know who's sleeping with who, and who got drunk at the weekend. I am interested to know about important things happening in my community that might have an impact on me. I'm interested to know what's happening around the world without it being filtered through the professional media. I'm also keen to share my views, and hear the views of others.

Social media offers the potential to be one great big sleazy interactive tabloid, or a real time intelligent social broadsheet with news, views and intelligent discussion. The choice is yours.


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