I came up with the title for this piece after reading this article on the BBC Website about people who the authors of a paper called ‘online exhibitionists. The idea is that much privacy legislation is based around the idea of what levels of privacy someone can reasonably expect to have when out and about in public. So, if we live in a world where people are relatively circumspect, photography and publication in public places is rare, then we can expect to have some right to privacy based on a reasonable expectation that you won’t be photographed. If you’re a celebrity, then your expectation can be less because you might reasonably expect to have people taking pictures and hassling you because the nature of your work has put you in the public eye. Right or wrong, that’s the way it’s tended to run over recent years.
Of course, with the rise of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, everyone has effectively become a ZZ List Celebrity within their own group of friends or the town in which they live in. In fact, it might be said that by the very act of registering an account with something like Facebook, we’re actually turning our backs on our right to privacy – and that’s wrong. I recently covered this sort of ground in my post ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’.
In my original plan for this piece, I was going to elaborate on this issue – but then a Tweet made me aware of a quote from Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook – “The Age of Privacy is Over”. Here it is. He states that were Facebook being set up now he’d default all our privacy settings to Public. Now, I quite like Facebook and have taken my privacy settings to a level with which I’m happy – but I can see Facebook losing users if they start regarding our lives as ‘entertainment feed’ for the real time Web.
Well, given that Zukerberg’s company rely on us letting go of a bit of privacy to communicate with each other, I can see that, in the words of Christine Keeler, ‘He would say that, wouldn’t he?’
But what has scared the bejabers out of me this morning is to see comments from some digital media folks along the lines that they feel it might be rewarding for us to ‘hide less’. I’m sorry? I can only imagine that those who say such things have never been on the receiving end of online stalking, have never been harassed for their sexuality expressed online, have never suffered a rock through their window from thugs because of their politics or race.
It may appear to be ‘hiding less’ for people in the business but it can be a matter of staying alive for some. Even when these people do not have online profiles, their privacy can be breached accidentally or deliberately by others who do.
Maybe the world of Big Brother has come 25 years late and is being self-inflicted. Just how many people out there right now are echoing in their attitudes the final chilling words of ‘1984’:
“But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”