Week Ten: Social media, privacy, social circles, sharing

The issue is not simply a matter of What's public, what's personal, and what's private. It's more complicated than that.

First, there is the matter of what to share with whom. It's common practice to trade personal information with institutions to get access to things - both online and off: access to the university, permission to drive a car, to work. The other stuff we sharing are those things we create: pictures we're in, pictures we take, words we write, projects we take on, conversations we have with others.

The extremes are
Everything should be public. Only the guilty have something to hide. This benefits businesses and governments pretty directly, but may benefit individuals, too.

Everything should be private. This makes you anonymous online - not necessarily a good thing as there are no social checks on what you say or do. Saves you from being stalked, but makes you a stalker.

The middle position: The individual chooses what information and what productions to share, and how that information is used, and by whom.

A second set of issues surrounds how working in public, or creating for public, shapes or influences what you do and how you do it, or what you say and how you say it.

In some instances, knowing that a work will be public motivates its creation. If no one is going to view something, what's the point in creating it? Aren't you a tree falling in the woods unheard? In cases, people tell me that they can't really speak their mind on a weblog knowing that others might read what they have to say. A good rhetorician (or professor) would suggest that a public audience demands that we shape what we say to maintain civility, which makes what is said valuable to all. "Personally, I think X is a jerk, but publicly, it's to everyone's benefit to look at what X is doing that's good for the community." That is, putting something in public demands that we move outside of our personal interests and to address those interests of our community.

In other instances, we might want to control how something - a comment, a picture - circulates. It's for access by friends, but not for everyone. In the same sphere , consider where you would be if little was made public to us, or only those on the extreme ends made their work public.

A third set of issues: What use can others make of personal or even public information? Prospective employers troll Facebook and google job candidates. Is that legit? A colleague of yours does the same thing to get to know your interests a little better. Is that legit? BSU sends an email to faculty asking for your online contact information; they want to find out if you have a position yet. Is that legit?

In class: Social media, privacy, and social circles

Start with these short pieces to get a fast overview of some of the current thinking on privacy and social media.

Then try a few things.
google yourself
google some of your professors
google some of your friends
ditto on Facebook
search for others on Twitter

What kind of info crops up? Personal or private details? Content? Content created for private, personal, or public consumption? Content shaped for personal or public consumption? Links to others? Links from others? Stuff you posted or stuff posted by others about you?

Now try finding what you can on Bill Thompson, a BBC journalist specializing in digital technology. On Twiter, he's @billt, and he's based in Cambridge, England. What kind of stuff does he make public? Personal info? Stuff he creates for the BBC, of course, but anything else?

From what you find, sketch out some thoughts on how social media, privacy, and sharing intersect. A blog entry is a good start.

Required activity if you're not on a project: Privacy Manifesto

Search for articles on social media and privacy from a wider perspective: Look at the position of business, and the position of the EFF (google it) for starters. Aggregate and annotate. Then, in a blog post or wiki entry of 1000 words or so, and drawing on and linking to the readings and other information you've found. develop a position statement, polemic, or manifesto on Social Media and Privacy. Be as firm and dogmatic as you like. Lay out a position - The Only Sensible Position - as writ in stone. (This would also work as a 3 - minute video rant.) To get a sense of what's possible, google some examples of manifesto and polemic. (eg: search for manifesto example)

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