What’s on your mind? the reality of status updates

A Syrian friend recently posted as a facebook status update:

the Arab security forces questioning u with all kind of atrocities to get a confession from you or what are you thinking right now , and you don’t tell them any thing ,
but when facebook is asking you , (what do you think? ) you Answer Openly and quickly

A great example of how we’re diarising our every moves without thinking of first, the consequences, secondly, whether anyone actually wants to know, and overall, whether writing something online is connected to what you are doing offline. Granted, to me some days the situation of my Syrian friends is more concerning and interesting than other days when it’s the various facebook mums and dads sharing how little Johnny threw his toys (depending on how I feel). The difference being how, potentially, those open and quick facebook responses can also get you in trouble in the physical world (with little Johnny when he’s big enough to realise how many people commented on pictures of him before he could decide for himself..).

But essentially this is not really private at all. And my tech-oid friends love this debate. Once something is up on the internet it is traceable and can be potentially held against you. Had the Arab security forces the time and the access to justice for those they stop to question (and did decide to give them a fair trial) they could quite easily try to use facebook to hold it against them.

The clearest example (although different rules on evidence no doubt) I have seen of that was in  2010 in the middle of the long running trial of  Charles Taylor and the potential role of Naomi Campbell in receiving blood diamonds. Media caught interest around the time Campbell and her former agent, Carol White, were giving evidence. That happened to coincide with a nasty parallel legal battle between Campbell and White. In the middle of cross examination early in the week, the counsel for the defence submitted as evidence extracts of other people’s facebook pages, which showed employees of White’s modelling agency were having a Blood Diamond party that very weekend before.  White had to sit through cross examination about potentially damaging photos and posts found on a third party’s facebook page. The fact that White was not tagged or even on facebook did not help her. The point of it was, of course, to discredit the witness. That may or may not have worked…

But scaremongering aside, one thing for sure is that the open access of the internet and our freedom of expression that we are savouring as a result (blogging a case in point) is a dint on privacy regardless of who you are. The rules of the game changed a few years ago on this and now it’s nothing new, I mean if you are reading this, you’ve probably already thought of these things. What I’m most interested in, though, is how people seem to have a disjunct between what goes on in cyberland compared to our physical world and perhaps these little examples that crop up are best served as reminders that they are actually connected… which is why people freak out these days when you call them to get an answer on your project, instead of playing the gamification system that emailing has turned our office culture into.  “Oh my god! She’s a real person and I have to give her an answer!!” Try it: it’s way faster!

4 thoughts on “What’s on your mind? the reality of status updates

  1. Great post, Em. I was having similar thoughts lately. Granted, I jinked my persona off social networks for very personal reasons, but then I discovered that I fared so much better by not being part of that cyber world anymore. My life is mine and mine only, and it’s a thoroughly private affair. I don’t share minute details of my life and I don’t publicise small daily observations about every little thing I see or think. Everything that happens in my life is a matter for my own inner reflection nowadays, not for public showcasing.I commit those moments of my reality to contemplation and memory, not to Facebook status updates or tweets. And it feels really good. And when it comes to staying in touch with important people in my life, who are far away, an old-fashioned letter will do just fine. Or an old-fashioned e-mail. 🙂 Or reading my friends’ blogs and commenting occasionaly on some entries that strike close to home. :))

    (on a slightly different note, I think it would be more appropriate to write “Syrian security forces” or whatever nation you meant. I know it was your friend from Syria who formulated it like that in his original status update, but to me it sounds the same as, for example, “Slavic police” or “Nordic army”. It confuses nationalities with ethnicities which is simply incorrect at best and can be offensive and prejudgemental (is this a real word, by the way? :)) at worst)

  2. So true, and I always find that when I actually have things going on in my life, I don’t have time to facebook or update my status. On the other hand, when I see someone who has updated often, it makes their life sound so exciting and great and mine so dull and boring. Oh the dilemma.

  3. Even blogs can be ego-centric, and I believe it is the gamification of the online systems we have made. This is case in point: I am replying to comments – is this why I blogged? Perhaps the same knee-jerk reaction as the “like” button? Are we conditioned now to respond to online systems in this way? Seems so.

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