Last week, I deleted public blogs that students in my high school English classes had written. It occurred to me that those blogs, which I cherished for their genuineness and honesty, could conceivably come back to haunt some of my former-students who have since graduated or relocated. Additionally, I took the time to delete the last names of students who have authored blogs from my current classes. Recent conversations with our school technology coordinator made me acutely aware of the inherent risks in having too much of their identifying information on the Internet. My personal and professional investment in the lives of my students mattered enough for me to take the time to make these privacy changes on their behalf. Unfortunately, this is not the landscape that will greet them in other areas of the Internet, most notably on Facebook.
You and I are endangered by a toxic leak fully as serious as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Our personal and community safety is now in harm’s reach. Equal to the enormity of the BP oil spill, Facebook’s new Open Graph API and Community Pages are gushing personally-identifying content about its users -from grandparents to underage children- throughout the internet, making this content available not only to Web sites and marketing vampires, but also to anyone from anywhere around the globe who has a glimmer of savvy about searching the Internet.
BP’s oil spill is an apt metaphor for Facebook’s bold release of user content. The only difference is that people get it about the oil spill. Few people seem to get the seriousness of Facebook’s latest deluge of personal content. Facebook’s new Open Graph API and Community Pages both pose a very real threat to personal security. Enough articles have been written about these changes that there is no excuse for any user not to fully educate themselves and to consider the serious ramifications of these changes for themselves and others. Not just for themselves, but also for others!
Have Facebook users become so enamored by the self-publicity and sense of self-importance we all have in seeing our posts, photos, and videos on the Internet that we have simultaneously become blinded by the subtle and not so-subtle abuses of our information and content? Have we become so addicted to the instant feedback and attention from our Facebook friends that we are now deaf to the clamoring bells of alarm for the great risks involved in sharing publicly so much information about ourselves (i.e. what we're doing, who we're doing it with, where we're going), information which Facebook has now made obscenely accessible to others? Have we become so drunk on the excitement of immediacy that we no longer care for the children and minors who naively put themselves in harms way via their Facebook postings that are being spread with the zeal of peanut butter and jelly on white bread by Facebook’s grandiose schemes under the guise of bogus “Community Pages”?
In her Huffington Post blog, “Getting Unhooked from Addictions,” sociologist and writer BJ Gallagher notes that “ . . . addicts cannot simply put down their drugs and solve their problem. It requires a shift in consciousness --some form of psychic transformation-- for addicts to live without their ‘fix.’” She quotes Einstein: "A problem cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it." We have become addicted to Facebook to feel connected to others, and if what Gallagher states is true, we must then shift our consciousness and reorient ourselves to a new way of communicating that does not pose such great risks to ourselves and to others, just as any addiction will.
Curiously, our Facebook addiction likely feeds the lack of awareness about the vile impact of Facebook’s new changes. A leading neuroscientist, Baroness Susan Greenfield of Great Britain, discusses the way that social networking affects the brain in her article, "How Facebook Addiction is Damaging Your Child's Brain." Baroness Greenfield states that " . . . the young 21st-century mind might be a marked preference for the here-and-now, where the immediacy of an experience trumps any regard for the consequences . . . This type of activity can be compared with the thrill of compulsive gambling.” Are we disregarding the potentially risky consequences of allowing our personal lives to spill across the vast ocean that is the Internet for this immediacy of experience? Baroness Greenfield also notes the affect of social networking on the essential development of empathy, stating that “[t]his cannot develop through social networking because we are not aware of how other people are really feeling - we cannot pick up on body language when we are communicating through a screen.” Does this cyber-apathy explain why so few are heeding the clarion call to speak out against and protest Facebook’s new Open Graph API and Community Pages that both place others, including minors, in harm’s way?
I currently keep my Facebook account only to stay abreast of these lightening speed changes that are taking place with the hopes that some of my very real friends and relatives who use the site will become much more vigilant than they have been in the past. I have stopped using it for the gratification of immediate personal communications and I do, in fact, miss the days when I used Facebook with the same degree of nonchalance with which my friends and relatives continue to use it, oblivious to or simply unconcerned about the privacy risks that exist for themselves as well as those who are connected to them on Facebook. I continue to be appalled that the Federal Communications Commission has not stepped forward to intervene on behalf of Facebook’s users, especially those who are minors. I cannot fathom how Facebook is not violating a law by allowing content provided by minors the same exposure as that of adults who should know better and who should care.