Does social media have no concept of privacy?

Dr Perri Campbell looks at the answers.

Dr Perri Campbell
Dr Perri Campbell

'Sharing is the new religion. And some of that sharing may well be not very nice. While we under-share in the real world, online we over-share like crazy. And call it freedom' (Suzanne Moore).

Does social media have no concept of privacy? Do online spaces offer us too much freedom? If we have the capacity to post any comment, image or video we like do we have too much power? How much power is too much (and where can I get it?!). Online - according to Suzanne Moore.

We've seen serious invasions of privacy online, like the Paris Hilton sex tapes (orchestrated media stunt or not) and more recently the Lara Bingle nude ‘balcony’ pictures. These invasions of privacy seem to fall straight into one of two categories: 'right' and 'wrong'. Private images/videos should only be shared by the owner. The area becomes grey when we are confronted with other, more subtle uses of social media.

Social media offers a unique window into our complex and evolving relationship with privacy. In the age of the 'instant celebrity' we grapple with desire to be famous, (when we want to be) and unknown/unseen when we've had enough of the spotlight. Even as we upload private snaps of our most intimate moments we're desperate to keep some things private (check the settings on your Facebook). What is the right balance?? How much should I say in an update? How often do I update? Is my awesome lunch really newsworthy?

For those concerned with privacy there are a number of problems related to what people know about us, whether or not they have the right to know, and what this information is used for. In the early days of digitally mediated communication the idea that anyone could be watching was part of the internet’s mystique. Now, Suzanne Moore warns us that we might unwittingly (or unwillingly) be under the microscope. ‘The internet appears transparent, yet is monitored and mined for data; we are all potential consumers’.

Market research has another field in which to play, but then again so do artists, business people, entrepreneurs, everyday bloggers and researchers. We are all potential ‘friends’, translators, collaborators, revolutionaries. Not to mention, one person’s blog/Tumblr/Pinterest is another person’s window in a different life-world. In certain contexts social media has more to say to freedom than we give it credit for. During the invasion and occupation of Iraq men and women reached out to the international community through blogs. Blogs provided a platform for speaking out when other offline spaces were shaped by chaos, violence and limited freedom of expression.

There are consequences for communication in any social space (market research has infiltrated so many areas of our life) why should digitally mediated spaces grasp at the title of transparency? We are all under the watchful gaze of the unknown observer – on or offline.

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