Readings 1: Digital Photography and Social Networking

27 06 2011

This article, Social Networking Sites: Public, Private, or What? brought up a lot of valid points about the effects of internet privacy (or the lack thereof) but simultaneously reiterated some ideas that the majority of my generation would consider obvious.  Her deconstruction of mediated publics into 4 categories was one of the more insightful aspects of the reading.  Persistence, Searchability, Replicability, and Invisible Audiences are all-encompassing notions that should be understood with regard to the sharing of material on social networking sites.

Persistence, to me, is the permanence of posting on the internet; though the security of privacy has evolved at an incredible rate within social networking sites, there will still always be, somewhere, an exact record of everything one has ever shared.  That is not limited to social networking sites, either, as AIM conversations, AOL profiles, forum discussions, etc. are equally indelible.

Searchability, along the same lines, described the potentially unfair ability of a parent, teacher, employer or other authority figure to track down someone.  It’s definitely an issue in the instance of a parent trying to monitor a child’s internet activity, but I interpreted the author’s message as though the parents are being wrongfully overprotective.  I would say from personal experience that the child is usually at least one step ahead since my parents definitely tried to keep an eye on my internet activity, but I would always have alternate usernames, history-clearing software among other tricks to assure that my tracks were covered if I were to explore sites that they wanted to prohibit.  Really, what I think this illustrates is that parents should focus their concerns on instilling good discipline/morals in their children so that they wouldn’t think to break their rules rather than using intimidation to make the child fear that he will get caught.  I realize I may be dwelling a bit too deeply on this point, but it reminds me of George Orwell’s 1984 vs. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World; in the former, the governing power uses incredible amounts of monitoring and intimidation so that its people wouldn’t dare to think against it (but they find ways around the monitoring) whereas the latter keeps its people so psychologically satisfied that they would never ‘bother’ to go against the rules.  Realistically, somewhere between the two extremes is probably most effective.

Replicability demonstrated the lack of context on the internet.  Material can be copied to and from anywhere.  What is appropriate in one situation is not always acceptable in another (the humorous example she gives us is a person in a bathing suit oiling up in a government building.)  On social networking sites, this can be come a significant problem as potential employers or others may look you up and associate your ‘uglier’ moments with how you always present yourself, even if you didn’t post the incriminating evidence.

Invisible audiences are very broad in the mediated public of social networking sites.  e-stalking has become virtually normal and it seems that people accept that people are following them only because it protects their ability to follow others.  There used to be myspace trackers that would enable you to see who was viewing your page, but myspace put a very quick end to the scripts that allowed that to happen (from what I remember, myspace is java based and facebook is html based.  Because of that difference, facebook never had this issue, possibly contributing to its greater success.)  Most testimonials regarding these trackers explain that the people who follow you are not who you would expect.  I think part of people’s obsession with these SNSes is that they hope the people they follow are following them just as much, which is typically not the case.

All of these ideas factor into why we should censor our internet activity especially when sharing material that is linked to us.  I feel that since my generation has been accustomed to the internet from a young age, we have learned a lot of what this article explains from trial and error.  There is however a deeper understanding as to why we should present ourselves in a different way on the internet when we break down the constructs of mediated publics.

Related (NSFW):

Friend Game was a depressing read; it’s sad to see that a girl’s suicide was linked to a myspace bully.  It’s especially important to note that the girl, Megan Meier, had faked a suicide before the actual suicide; people who threaten to commit suicide are more likely to commit suicide despite a popular belief that people who are serious about killing themselves “don’t just talk about it, they just do it.”

I think the heart of this problem lies in anonymity.  Often, when people find insecurity in themselves, they lash out on others and the internet provides an anonymous, seemingly consequence-free platform for hateful speech.  There was a case in which a teen sent a public myspace message that was actually his suicide note asking someone to call the police to go to his house where he was found dead.  The story drew a lot of attention and people began insulting him on his myspace page mainly for grammatical and spelling errors in the suicide note.  The problem is that insecure people will look for any sort of opportunity to make themselves look better than another and when the person is so distant from everyday life, consequence disappears and cruelty takes over.  To me, the most interesting part of Friend Game was that the bully was a neighbor who continued to harass Meier even after her suicide hoax.  This scenario definitely demonstrates a bully with much sicker psychological problems than the average cyber-punk.

Here I am Taking My Own Picture was on a much lighter note and I could definitely relate to it.  I have had a myspace account since before I can remember and have never had the urge to take a photograph of myself for a default picture.  I have always thought that the point of taking a picture was to capture a moment, but it seems that others are more concerned about choreographing the perfect pose, with their best facial expression, under the most generous lighting situation.  This is understandable, as people have a natural inclination to appear their best to others, but I also believe that it gives people a false impression of how you normally appear.  Taking pictures of yourself is basically the adult equivalent of a kid making faces in the mirror.  Is it an unhealthy habit? Probably not, but it can come across as ridiculous if overdone.  I can’t help but think of a few specific people from my highschool class who literally post 100’s of pictures of themselves a month and there’s definitely a limit of acceptability when it reaches that point.  I also try to remember people who are dieting and constantly judge their appearance to track progress; in that instance, it’s a healthy habit.


Questions for discussion:

Have you ever found it necessary to change any default privacy settings from your SNS of choice? Why or why not?

Should persecution for cyber-bullying be approached differently than real-life bullying? Why or why not?

In your opinion, what defines a good default picture? At the other end of the spectrum, what defines a tasteless default picture?