Law in Contemporary Society

Privacy and Social Media

-- By KurtLyn - 21 June 2013

Definition of Privacy

Privacy can be broken down into three subcomponents, secrecy, anonymity, and autonomy. Every individual has different appropriations of importance for privacy as a right as well as within its individual subcomponents. The technological developments of the last century have shifted the ratio of societal importance among the three categories. Secrecy, the privacy to keep what you do and where you go hidden, and anonymity, the ability to operate anonymously, are being quickly eroded due to developments such as security cameras, ip addresses, and phone tapping, just to name a few. Yet the subcomponent autonomy, one’s ability to control information about oneself, and the focus of this paper, has been strengthened through the recent rise of social media. This autonomy right is available to all classes of people (within United States) and through this universal access, privacy rights among the different social classes have now started to equalize. And as the privacy rights between the rich and poor begin to equalize, there are rippling effects that expand more protections and freedoms to the poor.

The Situation Prior to Social Media

It is well known, history is written by the winners, a concept fully illustrated in most court holdings and arrest reports. There is only one version put down on the record and for the most part, the person being written about has little control over what is being said. In situations like this, others, the court and the police, control the information that will henceforth represent someone else. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that minorities and lower socioeconomic classes are targeted and subjected to harsher searches and suspicion than other classes. Just from this, minorities and others have a disadvantaged level of privacy. Those who can afford it, buy into a higher level of privacy through gated communities, the prestige of higher social standing, paying off the law, affording lawyers and other various types of protections only available to those who can afford it. Inaccuracies in facts are difficult to change and one inaccuracy leads to profiling and stigmatizing within the law and courts as well as society leading to further inaccuracies. Although, obviously not the only reason for racial and social profiling, these inaccuracies often become the reasoning for part of this profiling. The inability to correct inaccuracies is largely a facet of the lower class and affects them the most harshly. In addition, to court and public records, information disseminated by the news was largely uncontested except by other news stations. To dispute facts in the news or elsewhere, to have autonomy about accessible information on either your social class, neighborhood, race or specific individual facts, has always required money until the advent of social media.

How the Democratization of Information has Equalized Privacy Rights

This is where I believe Facebook and social media have begun and will continue to reduce the discrepancy between the privacy rights of the upper class and the other classes and as a result social bias and class distinctions. Facebook and other social media, begin to level the playing field as they cut through privacy protections given to those that can afford these protections. First, the development of social media and photo sharing sites puts everyone’s information out there, to the point that their quotes, videos and photos are essentially digitally etched into stone. The increased amount of information in addition to the increased spread of information dilutes the pool of current information in a way that only advantages those with previously lesser privacy rights. It allows for more consistent exposure to the things that we used to want kept private to the point it becomes commonplace. This is most notable in drug usage; for example, minorities and members of the lower class are overwhelmingly charged with drug related charges in a way that is out of sync with the ratio of actual drug usage of society as a whole. This discrepancy is due to the ability of those who can afford it to keep private their usage through the protections aforementioned. However, as these classes continually share and allude to drug usage through social media, society’s moral compass will acclimatize to drug usage generally and lessen prosecutions and sentencing against those.

Second, it creates an avenue for those without the proper funding or clout to express and vocalize their ideas and views, ultimately allowing them to control information about themselves as an individual and as a group (the autonomy component). Social media has allowed a new class of people to directly contradict or attack a more “official” source by publicizing additional opinions and views. This democratization of information creation expands the autonomy component of privacy, even if surrendering anonymity and secrecy. I think the ability for people to speak out through online blog posts, facebook, twitter, all of these sources, liberates society in general from the constraints of supposedly "credible" and "official" sources of information. Ultimately, serving as the best counter to false and inaccurate information about oneself.

What This Means For The Future

I believe that the continued rise of social media, and the democratization of information as a result, will lead to competition amongst to information sources to be the most “credible”, hopefully reducing inaccuracies and forcing more accurate portrayals. Secrecy and anonymity have been in the decline and will continue to be as technology develops and creates more transparency. And thus the autonomy component will become the component society uses to conceptualize privacy rights. Social media equalizes these privacy rights and as a result will hopefully reduce prejudice against those with previously less privacy rights.

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r6 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:23:38 - IanSullivan
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