Social Media, Privacy, Comedy, and Elements of Shirkey

“Why can’t I see my feed the right way anymore? How is Facebook gonna tell me what I like?” says a Facebook friend in response to the most recent overhaul. I can’t help but feel bad for him. Not only does he not understand the ways Facebook keeps track of what you click on, like and share, but when he finds out he may be upset enough quit using Facebook. His post has a few likes and comments from people who might be equally freaked out.

But he is one of the clean ones. His posts are “Facebook Kosher,” meaning they are not dirty or radically opinionated. I, on the other hand, like to flirt with the line. As Clay Shirkey predicts in his book “Here Comes Everybody,” we trade our true opinions for the right to participate in social contexts. I certainly censor my posts, both for fear of professional repercussions and because I have little cousins who can see my musings. Admittedly, I’ve blocked the youngn’s from a few outbursts while watching the Buffalo Bills royally screw up plays late in the 4th quarter. But I wish I didn’t have to (both block people and be a Bills fan).

Comedians use Twitter better than anyone: they’re the best at delivering 1-liners. They can also say what they want because they can play the comedy card if things get sticky. Comedy allows one to safely divulge radical opinions. The rest of us have to play the game that Shirkey predicted, and Twitter is no different than Facebook in this sense. We get 140 characters to make people think we are who we want them to think we are. Comedians get to be themselves. This is why I’m a comedian at heart: I value being real and dislike people who are intentionally fake. All of the people I love most, including my wife, are intensely real.

The judgement of the crowd is a real thing. You feel it most in social media. You may feel more comfortable saying things from your laptop, but you’re still standing on a table and shouting your opinions out for all to hear. Crowd-moderating is good and bad; it simultaneously keeps harmful and helpful opinions at bay. For example, racism is bad and it’s a good thing that it’s kept off of my news feed. But people may also feel shy about sharing negative opinions on our commodity-driven lifestyle, which is a guaranteed one-way ticket to collapse, for fear fo being labeled as a radical hippie. I guess that makes me a radical hippie. But self-censorship may be a good thing for us because most people don’t know that the internet is Big Brother’s newest tool. And we feed it voluntarily.

This morning we Skyped with Eva Galperin, a highly knowledgable activist with EFF in San Francisco. She told us a thing or two about internet privacy. In a nutshell, you are the product, not the consumer, of social media and everything you do online is available to the government. Shocked? That’s good, because it’s important to understand the amount of privacy we’ve sacrificed to participate in social media. Now Facebook and Twitter are far more interested in selling custom-tailored ad space built around your actions, but your information is available to the CIA if they want it.

The moral? Maybe self-censorship will turn out to be good for those who do it and bad for those who are honest. Backwards, isn’t it? Be fake, or be real and thank activists like Eva Galperin for looking out for your freedoms.

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