Forget Lolcats. If we quit using sites like Facebook, we’ll miss opportunities for self-expression, personal growth, learning, support, and civic exchange.
Simple solutions have been proposed to help users cope with the vulnerability of disclosing information on the social web. These remedies are clear and decisive, but they demand significant trade-offs -- perhaps greater sacrifice than typically is acknowledged.
One such option, which Farhad Manjoo, the technology columnist at Slate, bluntly spelled out in a two-word article, "How to Stay Private on Facebook," is "Quit Facebook." Manjoo offers this security-centric path for folks who are anxious about the service being "one the most intrusive technologies ever built," and believe that "the very idea of making Facebook a more private place borders on the oxymoronic, a bit like expecting modesty at a strip club". Bottom line: stop tuning in and start dropping out if you suspect that the culture of oversharing, digital narcissism, and, above all, big-data-hungry, corporate profiteering will trump privacy settings.
Another path is that pursued by Wall Street Journal journalist Julia Angwin who just deleted her 666 Facebook friends. She's lost faith in the service's capacity to safeguard what privacy scholar Helen Nissenbaum calls "contextual integrity" (here meaning a respect for the informational norms of certain groups or friends).
Crucially, Angwin pursued this option as a last resort. At first, she deliberately muddied her profile by "burying good data (my actual relationships) amidst bad data (people I didn't know)." Alas, the tactic -- which is only one of the many ways to obscure information -- rendered Facebook unusable. Now, Angwin plans on keeping a bare-bones profile. She'll maintain just enough presence to send private messages, review tagged photos, and be easy for readers to find. Others might try similar experiments, perhaps keeping friends, but reducing their communication to banal and innocuous expressions. But, would such disclosures be compelling or sincere enough to retain the technology's utility?
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