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!