There is a school district in Los Angeles that is causing a bit of an uproar over a new policy that they have adopted. They’ve hired a private firm to look over their students postings on social media so that they can keep their students safe.
It isn’t hard to see why this is causing waves. This is almost exactly the sort of thing that happened in George Orwell’s “1984” and “V for Vendetta.” The Big Brother government, keeping an ever watchful eye on its citizens in order to “protect them from themselves.”
Except that, as far as social media is concerned, they can legally do just that.
Here’s the thing with social media: anyone can look at it. Your friends, your relatives, people you have never met and, obviously, the government. And no, you have neither a right nor a reasonable expectation of privacy where social media is concerned.
Social media is largely public, unless you make it private. It’s designed to connect people to one another, it’s designed to be a largely open forum. Facebook, and more so Twitter, are basically like showing up to a crowded town square and yelling out whatever comes to mind. And you can’t expect privacy when you’re shouting in a public venue, it’s a bit hypocritical.
Everything on social media consists of information that you yourself volunteer. Everything you tweet or post is something that you choose to put out there for the entire Internet to see. It’s very different than the government, say, peeping into your private e-mails. It’s equivalent to part of the Miranda Rights that says “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
If you use your real name, upload a real picture of yourself, provide your real birth date and age, and then tell the world where you are, you aren’t a private individual anymore. You’ve flung yourself directly into the middle of a very bright spotlight for everyone to see. If you run naked through Old Town at midday, you can’t then sue for someone taking a picture of you.
It’s very different from logging on behind an anonymous username and an animated .gif file for a face. When you make an effort to be private, mask who you actually are, then you can have some expectation of privacy from prying eyes.
But that does, of course, bring up the question of where does this all stop? If they can spy on our lives via social media, how do we stop them from digging deeper? And the answer, as it turns out, is pretty simple: Stop giving them what they want. If they want your social media data, don’t use social media or else make it a lot harder for them to find you on social media.
This sort of thing stops whenever we want it to, and so long as we keep coughing up little tidbits about ourselves to the Internet, they’ll keep paying attention to us.
Editorial Editor Caleb Hendrich is a senior journalism and political science major, who can be followed on Twitter @CalebHendrich; although he rarely Tweets. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org