Monday, November 11, 2013

The Myth of Privacy in a Social, Digital World

In our digital and wired world, we can no longer assume that our private actions will remain private. The long-assumed distinction between public and private life is under digital assault. It's not hard to argue that the notion of privacy as we've previously understood it is dead.

 Certainly in the area of Social Media, anything that is 'said' in any digital platform, whether intended to be private or not, can easily become public.

On crime stories, News outlets routinely are able to access the personal Facebook page of the suspect, and broadcast photos and details from those pages in the news media.

Then-Congressman Anthony Weiner famously tweeted a sexually suggestive picture to a 21-year-old Seattle woman. The picture was presumably intended to be sent as a private, Direct Message but instead went out on the Congressman's public account. The tweet was quickly deleted. But in this era, our digital actions leave digital footprints. A screengrab was made of the tweet before it was deleted, and was shared with a media blogger and quickly went viral.

In the early hours of this revelation, Weiner denied sending the photo, and suggested in interviews that his account must have been hacked by a political opponent. Eventually, he confessed to sending not only that photo but other similar messages to other women during the time he was married. The incident to Weiner's resignation from Congress.

Rachel Berry was crowned Miss Oregon 2012. But she relinquished her crown after a series of posts in by blogger Jack Bogdanski in called into question her eligibility.

Berry would have represented Oregon at the Miss America pageant. But Bogdanski's reporting questioned whether she met the pageant's residency requirement that contestants live in Oregon for 6 months prior to competing in a qualifying contest.

Berry initially denied claims that she was ineligible, and quickly deactivated her Facebook and Twitter accounts when questions began to be raised. However, Bogdanski pointed to Tweets from "Sunny California" in December of 2011, and YouTube video clips showing her working at a California TV station in late 2011 to prove she had failed to meet the residency requirement.

It seems the category of beauty pageant is especially fraught with peril. There have been a number of cases of queens deposed after photos or videos surfaced from social media showing these 'representatives'  engaged in not-so-appropriate conduct. The latest was the resignation of the 2012 Miss Delaware Teen USA, after a pornographic video surfaced.

Gawker: Miss Delaware Teen USA resigns after porn video surfaces

All the above situations involve individuals who, through their own choices, have made their private lives and their private choices 'newsworthy' by entering into the public arena. So they are not entitled to the same expectation of privacy.

But all these lessons apply even to those of us not in the 'public eye.' The public/private distinction is increasingly  indistinct. Here's a typical example of an individual assuming a difference between their private and public life, making a critical comment about their boss on Facebook. And note, the punch line:

Many of our actions leave a digital footprint. Even actions we may think are private can easily become public in an age where we check in, photograph, and tag even our private activities.

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