By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
This story, from today's Washington Post, made me chuckle—and serves as a good object lesson not only for the high school students who are its subject, but for people four to six years out of high school and navigating the job market. The story looks at how police and school officials are patrolling social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, keeping an eye on students through their online profiles.
Students insist that this is an unwarranted invasion of privacy, but that position is (amazingly, for young people) dated. It hearkens back to a time when privacy was an expectation, whereas in our growing self-surveillance society, privacy must be affirmatively sought and jealously guarded. The default today is that nothing is private.
Here's what made me chuckle:
In recent years, school administrators have blamed some campus fights on Internet taunts and urged parents to keep watch on their children's computer activity. But students who use the Web to let their 500 closest friends know what they are doing at all times are sometimes surprised that police are watching, too.
And here's why:
Police don't have special privileges on Facebook or MySpace. Students who want to go unobserved can change privacy settings so that their profiles are displayed only to a list of approved people. But the default settings leave those profiles open to many Internet users (in the case of Facebook) or all of them (in the case of MySpace).
And as the Post story points out, it's not just police who do this, it's also employers. But as with the high school students shocked to learn that police read what they post in a public space, young job seekers sometimes forget that the old default settings of privacy have been replaced by the actual settings in the preferences section of the Web site. So yeah, if you're not careful the potential boss might find that photo of you drunk and/or behaving stupidly.
Some are catching on, though: I just found all nine of my journalism students on Facebook, but they all had their profiles set to only be accessible to their friends. It's a small victory for privacy sensibility, but it's a start.
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