Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
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The Key To The Decline Of Social Networking: Public Outrage

-- By BrittanyMorgan - 22 Mar 2013

This paper examines the decline of the right to privacy in connection with social networking sites. It argues that we should respond to intrusive social networking sites not only “by building stronger restraints to protect our privacy” but also by making social networking sites, like Twitter and Instagram so unpopular that people do not want to take part in them. One way to do this is through celebrity public outrage.

The American Public's Indifference

Unfortunately, the majority of the public has no problem giving up some privacy to use social networking services. Convenience has in a sense subsumed the right to privacy. Social networking sites, such as Twitter and Instagram are directly responsible for this new phenomenon. These companies have manipulated the American public into forgetting that what the American public is giving up is priceless.

"Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains"

In the article titled, Bigger Monster, Weaker Chains: The Growth of an American Surveillance Society, Jay Stanley and Barry Steinhardt put forth four main goals that need to be attained in order to protect privacy rights in the United States. First, the ACLU believes that we should not be debating every new technology and technique for spying on people; instead, we should be focusing on the large-scale movement toward a surveillance society. Second, the ACLU argues that we need to develop a strong, comprehensive law protecting privacy in the United States. Currently, in the United States, we have only a patchwork of privacy protections. The United States protects only particular privacy rights, such as the privacy of children under the age of 13. We need to create a clear and comprehensive privacy framework that crosses all sectors of the lives of the American public. Third, in the event that a comprehensive privacy law is not passed in the United States, we must develop new laws that respond directly to new technologies and techniques, such as surveillance cameras, location-tracking devices and biometrics. Fourth, courts must adapt the Fourth Amendment to the realities of new technologies and techniques. “The reasonable expectation of privacy cannot be defined by the power that technology affords the government to spy on us. Since that power is increasingly limitless, the ‘reasonable expectation’ standard will leave our privacy dead indeed.” Although these four goals certainly build stronger restraints to protect privacy, I propose a fifth that focuses exclusively on social networking sites and offers a more expedited result.

A New Solution: Celebrity Public Outrage

We should encourage or incentivize celebrities to delete their Twitter and Instagram accounts and publicly tarnish the companies’ reputations. Oftentimes, the only reason people log on to social networking sites or create social networking accounts is to see what celebrities are tweeting and instagraming. When celebrities are no longer tweeting and instagraming, the American public will not care as much to log on to social networking sites. Moreover, celebrities function as role models to the American public. The American public will follow what celebrities do. A person is more inclined to purchase a piece of clothing if he sees his favorite celebrity promoting the item. The same should follow for social networking sites.

There has already been evidence of celebrity public outrage. When Facebook bought out Instagram, Instagram laid out a new policy that allowed them to own and sell users photographs without any compensation or prior permission. The policy also stated that photographs of users could be appropriated for advertising purposes. Celebrities were outraged because the policy would take away from endorsement money. Celebrities including Anderson Cooper and Kim Kardashian threatened to delete their accounts and publicly criticized the company’s new policy. Anderson Cooper wrote, “Instagram will not be able to use anyone’s photos in ads? Without consent? Come on! Is there another photo app people recommend?” Due to the negative feedback and statements by celebrities threatening to delete their accounts, the company changed its policy. Co-founder, Kevin Systrom stated, “As we review your feedback and stories in the press, we’re going to modify specific parts of the terms to make it more clear what will happen with your photos. Instead it was interpreted by many that we were going to sell your photos to others without any compensation. This is not true and it is our mistake that this language is confusing. To be clear: It is not our intention to sell your photos. We are working on updated language in the terms to make sure this is clear.” In addition, Google recently introduced a new service called Buzz that added social networking features to its Gmail system. Buzz showed everyone the list of people you email most frequently. Within hours of Buzz’s release, people were outraged. As a result, Google changed the software and apologized. Vice President for product management at Google, Bradley Horowitz stated, “The public reaction was something we did not anticipate. But we’ve reacted very quickly to people’s unhappiness.” These examples illustrate the influence and control that celebrities have in the private marketplace and on the public.


I believe that we can take advantage of this influence and control. If Twitter and Instagram can manipulate the public, certainly another organization should be able to do so in an effort to counter Twitter and Instagram’s disastrous effects. We need to create a non-profit organization or public outreach group that offers celebrities financial incentives to delete their Twitter and Instagram accounts and publicly tarnish the companies’ reputations. The strategy should function similar to a celebrity endorsement or promotional deal. This non-profit organization or public outreach group should pay celebrities to publicly denounce these social networking sites in televised commercials, magazines and public interviews and argue for restored privacy rights in the United States. When this happens, the American public will soon follow. When this happens, advertisers will start to pull back. Ultimately, we will see the demise of social networking sites.

I don't understand the essay's theme. These forms of no-cost surveilled mass-communication with a system operator who watches everybody watch everything are a mousetrap baited with celebrity. The "people" (brands, actually, represented as living humans beings with whom we have fantasy personal relationships: imaginary friends for adult and child alike), get from such "microblogging" services a direct mode of communication with their "followers," who can be motivated, convinced or advertised to do stuff. The service watches all this go on and data-mines the flow of social activity for its own and its customers' profit. How could you pay the "celebrity" brand manager not to do something from which he derives all that value? And, because there is no shortage of human beings who would like to be "celebrities," how are you going to keep paying everyone not to use a communications system that benefits them?

Bribing brands not to advertise seems a poor solution to a problem that is bigger than and different from brand-based tracking anyway. What the essay should do in revision, I think, is not only to ask what modification of this approach is necessary, but also why an approach at this level of detail, in this direction, is necessary. Some change in the concept of "celebrity" being used might help.

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r3 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:44:39 - IanSullivan
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