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Social Media and Privacy
February 2, 2012 - 8:39pm

Privacy is a fluid construct. People created privacy. We shape it, re-write it, rail against and/or for it. The social rules that dictate privacy are inherently individualized and collectively nebulous. Privacy is not rigid. However, when it comes to conversing about privacy and social media, there seem to be severely polarized viewpoints: those who use privacy as a blockade against using social media versus those who use social media without feeling compelled to protect themselves. Perhaps my memory is skewed, but all I can recall of recent social media and privacy presentations is the sense that we have to "protect it." We are presented with various arguments as to why we should maintain and manage our privacy on social media, but never can I recall hearing or reading an argument that presents social media and privacy in a positive light.

Is it possible to craft a presentation of social media and privacy where we frame things as being less restrictive? Where protecting privacy in the strictest sense is regarded as being a negative trait? Of course there will be exceptions to this (cyberstalking, cyberbullying, etc.), but I'm thinking of this from a generalized context. Most social media privacy conversations read like a risk averse legal mandate. As if it's better to not even sign up than to attempt to understand the very nature of this new social privacy.

Privacy is generally generational. Social formulations of privacy looked quite different in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, etc. What we share via social media in 2012 would most-likely be seen as an abomination to those generations where social sharing was done in-person, through the mail, or via telephone. Social media allows for a sharing of our lives on a global scale. Let's consider Facebook. Facebook is 8 years old and yet many still treat it as if it is a fad. In Internet years, Facebook is a mature platform. If the site continues to grow and thrive, those who are teenage users today could have decades of social media sharing experience when they hit their thirties. Social media privacy will be markedly different for a generation who has grown up with a different view on sharing. Privacy is shifting.

However, what are we really sharing? On Facebook, we let others know that we have family members, that we like listening to music and going to the movies, and that we have political perspectives. Personally, I've been sharing immense amounts of my life via my blog, Facebook, and Twitter, for quite a while. The perception of my sharing most likely informs how some would view my thoughts on privacy. Yet, I would contend that we have gotten better at sharing while simultaneously protecting those bits of our lives that we weren't sharing prior to Facebook, blogs, or even the Internet.

What if the advocates for social media privacy protection are basing their advocacy and presentations on a lack of personal use? To truly know how social media works, to really get it from a critical perspective, wouldn't you have to use it frequently? Privacy and social media are not opposing forces. Each individual who uses Facebook, Twitter, or a blog gets to regulate their sharing.

What would happen if we re-framed conversations around privacy and social media to a positive space of critical recognition and focused less on protection, but more on fluency?


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