Social Network websites are a little older than Facebook. Indeed they are almost two decades old now, though those earliest services were very basic in what they offered. As they have evolved, as our understanding of what constitutes a community has broadened and become more confused, boundaries have shifted and what once we might have kept to the company of those who enter our homes, we share with hundreds, sometimes thousands of friends, followers, and sometimes fans on myriad platforms. The trivial details of our lives, our triumphs, tragedies, and trials are increasingly open for public consumption. We share our beliefs with a wider range of acquaintances than ever before. This has left our idea of privacy in wandering in a maze of new technology and new social awareness.
In years past, all but the most zealous believers would leave their prayer at home or in their churches, synagogues and mosques, unless some catastrophe moved large groups to do otherwise. Not so long ago non-believers saved their cynicism and outrage for the company of like-minded individuals or for those circumstances in which their rights were being trampled on by the religious. Today both groups blast their blessings, their curses, their self-righteousness, their ignorance, and their brilliance without second thought.
Today every broken heart, dirty diaper, and every offense is plastered on our social networking feeds, for the population of a small village, or even a small city, to see. Young and old alike post pictures that in the past we might have been embarrassed to share outside a very small circle, usually a circle of two, if at all. We have all become Diogenes of Sinope, masturbating in public because the gods do not prevent us from doing so.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is teaching us to open our minds to ideas we might not have in the past. It is allowing us to not be embarrassed about the silly, mundane, oh-so-human events that we were once taught to be ashamed of. We have opened ourselves to the opinions of others. We have a new-found ability to share our ideas with those who might disagree to maybe change their minds. It is now easier to find those we do agree with to find support, even if it does sometime encourage us to live in an echo chamber. It has also, however, created some seriously unfounded confusion over what constitutes privacy.
On several occasions either I have been chastened, or witnessed others being chastened, for commenting on someone’s status. I have been told it is rude to express an opinion contrary to the original post, and that in doing so I am invading their privacy. To insist you have a right to privacy while using a technology that in its very name has the word “social” in it is beyond bizarre and possibly more than a little willfully ignorant.
Their status ends up on my newsfeed. I can choose to remove them as a friend, or block them, but I don’t want to stop being social, they do. If they do not want me to comment on their very public statements, perhaps they should keep said statements private. This is not terribly complicated. This should not be as confused as people make it out to be. When I make a comment that ends up on anyone else’s newsfeed (or twitter account, or what have you) I am effectively shouting out my opinion, or whatever, in a public park. I am certainly welcome to do so, but no one is obligated to not shout back.
I would like to think this is a simple misunderstanding, but as I said, this is not something that requires a degree in the social sciences to understand. I suspect many people, on all points of the political spectrum (though I will not be so diplomatic to not point out that this behavior skews rightward a bit) want to be able to shout their point of view to the world without consequence. Too often, both online and off “I’m entitled to my opinion” is spoken without consideration to the fact that so are those who disagree. This phenomenon is amplified by the shouting matches that occur when someone sends their word out there for the world to see while trying to insist on their right to privacy in a public sphere. We have filled our theater with excrement and insisted no one has a right to clean it out. Eventually, we may see ourselves drowning in it.