A Public Affair

As I read through the readings for this week I struggled to see the big deal about online privacy and was surprised by how many people expected it. I tried to empathise but in the end failed, mainly because I see the Internet as an extension of real life, and as such believe that, like real life, privacy is a naive and impossible expectation.

Due to the fact that we live in a society, we are surrounded by people all of the time. People are looking at us, studying our outfits, overhearing our conversations, bumping into us on the train and exchanging ideas and goods with us all of the time. I don’t get upset when people look at me in real life so why should I get upset when they look at photos of me on the Internet? The only thing you can really control is you. People can only take pictures of us or see us doing things when we do them. If we don’t want certain people to see or know about things then we shouldn’t do them. If we don’t do them then we don’t need to worry about keeping them ‘private’.

As educators I think the fundamental thing to teach our students is that every action has consequences and that actions taken on the Internet are no exception. Rather than creating a private space for us, the Internet is an extension of real life where privacy is impossible. If we would be unwilling for our parents, friends or teachers to see or read something then we shouldn’t do, it let alone write about it on the Internet. Jon Kleinberg, a professor of computer science at Cornell University who studies social networks advices: “When you’re doing stuff online, you should behave as if you’re doing it in public — because increasingly, it is.” Who knows, maybe all of this publicity will help to make us into more accountable, better people.

2 thoughts on “A Public Affair

  1. I think the biggest concern that many people have about a lack of privacy online is access to the often intimate things that they are choosing to post there. But you’re right, we really should treat the online space as public and behave accordingly. There’s also a sense of not having control over what is being said about you online, but to take your analogy further, this is really no different than having control over what people might say about us behind our backs offline.

  2. I think I agree with the idea that privacy online is not that different than privacy offline. And as a teacher who lives within walking distance of the school, I certainly have the feeling that people could be watching at almost any time – and maybe it’s made me behave a bit more “properly” or accountably (is that a word?) in public, and maybe that’s how things should be. Similarly, as someone who’s a teacher and who is using his real name to do a lot of things online, I’ve been trying not to post inappropriate things to Facebook, etc., and that’s probably a good thing all around. What I guess I mean is that if you go into a public space like a train station with the awareness that it’s a public space, you modify your behavior and aren’t shocked when, for example, people look at you or accidentally bump into you. The trouble starts when people treat a public space as if it were private, I guess. Facebook is essentially a public space that has tricked a lot of people into treating it as if it’s private, and it’s causing confusion and embarrassment as people realize how public it is.

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