If you’re actually wondering what the answer to the question is within my blog’s title for this week, then get out. No, really, #byefelicia. Privacy as a whole is such a HUGE issue across the board–not just digitally, though that’s mostly what I’m writing about this week (don’t even get me started on the political necessities of privacy–we’d be here for DAYS).
For those of you that are still here, you obviously know (or should, anyway) that we ALL need privacy, to a certain extent. We all have thoughts and feelings that, likely, are not fit for public consumption. “But Erica,” you might be saying right now, “of course the people want to know everything I think and say and have for breakfast. After all, that’s what social media is for!”
No, it is not. We, as a society, share FAAAARR too much on social media. Nobody can hold any secrets anymore. Nobody can keep their own thoughts and opinions to themselves. We have become a culture of oversharing, and I am just as guilty of doing so as everybody else is.
My mother always taught me not to discuss three things in mixed company–religion, money, and politics. Funny how Facebook, for example, is the very definition of “mixed company” and yet we have no problems spouting our opinions on Clinton versus Sanders, or Trump, or how God has touched our lives (or not). We have no problem whining about how we don’t make enough money, even when we friend our bosses on Facebook and they can see the worst sides of us.
How the hell did we get here? I took an online quiz put on by the ACLU (the link is in the caption of the screenshot)–do you know what it told me? Here’s a screenshot of my result:
We share SO MUCH INFORMATION. And we have no control over any of it. We have this illusion of privacy, as though we think what we say “in private” on Facebook won’t get around. Ha. The best explanation of why this is wrong comes from Victor Dorff(2016) in an article for the Huffington Post: “Like a teenager who is horrified to learn that the little lock on her diary was insufficient to protect her secrets from a prying sibling, Americans have been surprised over and over again to learn that nothing they say or do is necessarily a sacred secret” (para. 7).
So why do we do it? I can’t answer that question. It only seems to bring strife, for the most part. Story time: my mother and I got into it last week over–what else–disparate political views. We can’t seem to agree to disagree there, and when we were talking (read: arguing), she mentioned that she wasn’t allowed to post what she really thought about certain things because she’d get in trouble or judged. I argued back that she was allowed to, certainly; she just chose not to. And therein lies the fundamental difference between my mother and me–I choose to enter the fray. I choose to vocalize my opinions and beliefs. I choose to share the fun parts of my day on Facebook, just as I choose to share when I’m irritated about something. I am an open book, as I’ve often said, and sometimes that book comes with certain strong political views because something something FIRST AMENDMENT ‘MURICA YEAH!!!
But in all seriousness, digital privacy is starting to become less of a personal issue and more of a political one. I’m sure you all know about the iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino shooter that the FBI couldn’t get into. They wanted Apple to build a code for a back door–one that could then ostensibly be used any time the FBI needed information that they couldn’t get otherwise. There are significant privacy concerns there, according to Apple, and I can’t say I blame them. If they wrote a code to get into THIS iPhone, what’s to stop the FBI from getting into any iPhone they chose, regardless of whether someone committed a crime or not? And what’s worse is that less than 37% of Republicans at the time sided with Apple (Waddell, 2016). What possible reasons could the Republicans have had for not supporting Apple and the right to privacy? I don’t know, personally, but at a guess, I think it keeps us scared. So long as we’re scared, we’re malleable. When we’re scared, we give away rights left, right, and center. While I will own that the following quote is taken somewhat out of context, as Benjamin Franklin was discussing a tax dispute between the Penn family and the Pennsylvania General Assembly in the 1755, this one always comes to mind:
Not for nothing, but if a Founding Father saw that giving up rights for safety was stupid, why can’t we?
So yes, I might be presenting myself (at least on Facebook) in a manner unbecoming of an academic, but my answer to that criticism is as follows: First, my Facebook is my own personal soapbox. I am allowed to say and behave in a certain manner because, at the end of the day, my Facebook is where I am most comfortable. It’s where I can have debates with family and friends over various topics, and where we can share information and knowledge. If anybody doesn’t like that I utilize my Facebook in this way, then my only response is to not let the door hit you on the way out. Second, I have certain social media platforms that I use in specific ways. Twitter, for example, is my academic side. I very rarely post anything personal on there (anymore–I will own that; I’m transforming my Twitter), and I’m utilizing it as more of a place where I go as a historian and as an educator to share ideas and to pass on the passion for history that I have. I use Twitter as a teaching platform. I use Facebook as a personal one. I see no reason why this should change, regardless of anyone’s opinions of my opinions. They’re mine, and I have the right to speak them, just as someone else has a right to speak theirs. In the same vein, people have the right to be offended or angry at my opinions. Therein lies the strength (or weakness, depending on who you talk to) of the First Amendment. So my personal Digital Citizenship statement? I have a First Amendment right to say what I think, but others have a right to not like it, which means I need to be careful of what I say, where I say it, and how I say it.
Hell, maybe my mother has it right. Maybe it’s best to just keep my mouth shut. As Aaron Burr said in that great musical of our time (Hamilton, in case you missed the last blog post), “ev’ry proclamation guarantees free ammunition for your enemies.” Maybe it is best to “talk less, smile more.”
Barrett, B. (2016). Update your Pokemon Go app now to fix that privacy mess. Wired. Retrieved from: https://www.wired.com/2016/07/update-pokemon-go-app-now-fix-privacy-mess/
Dorff, V. (2016). Privacy: a failed experiment. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/victor-dorff/privacy-a-failed-experiment_b_9730878.html
Franklin, B. (1755). Pennsylvania Assembly: Reply to the Governor. Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives, 1755-1756 (Philadelphia, 1756), pp. 19-21. Retrieved from: http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp?vol=6&page=238a
Waddell, K. (2016). Is digital privacy becoming a partisan issue? The Atlantic. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/03/is-digital-privacy-becoming-a-partisan-issue/472449/