Tell me your name, and in less than a minute, I can know where you go to school, where you live, your screen name, who your friends are and what you did last Friday night. Give me another minute and a search engine, and I will know your home address, phone number, the particulars of your seventh grade blog and anything that you have ever done worthy of attention. Scary, right?
Even though privacy is not one of the freedoms explicitly guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights, the American people have been fighting for it tooth and nail for a long time. Important court cases regarding issues as controversial as family planning and women’s rights hinge on this very concept. As children, we’ve all posted “keep out” signs on our bedroom doors and have been told that it’s not nice to snoop. If your college roommate went through your things or read your journal, you would be out of your mind with rage. So then why are we willing to forego all of this hard-won privacy in favor of posting the most intimate details of our lives online?
It’s not as if we don’t know that all of this information is out there and open to the public. In fact, most of the time, we’re the ones who put it there in the first place via Facebook and countless other networking Web sites. After all, what could be better than being able to keep tabs on all of your friends and people you barely know without ever having to leave the comforting glow of your laptop?
The general mindset is that only your friends are going to be clicking through last weekend’s drunken pictures on Facebook in order to leave hilarious comments – wrong. As pointed out in a recent Hatchet front page article (“Facebook big brother?”, Feb 1, p.1) Facebook is no longer a domain reserved solely for the antics of college students. Coaches, professors, the University Police Department, Student Association candidates, parents and other people whom you most certainly do not want to make privy to the inner workings of your private life now use to Facebook to keep track of us.
Unfortunately, the consequences of making fools of ourselves in cyberspace will undoubtedly haunt us long after we stop checking Facebook 30 seconds after first waking up. Future employers are not going to be immune to checking up on who you really are, and if that means a quick glance online, so be it. If you think that you will be able to run for public office without those unfortunate pictures ending on the front page of the local newspaper or that embarrassing video circulating the Internet like wildfire, keep dreaming.
The whole question of privacy comes down not to who should and shouldn’t be allowed to view this and that online, but rather, what you personally choose to keep private. It would be close to impossible to police the Internet to make sure that only those whom you personally approve of are allowed to view a particular photograph or read a certain comment. However, you do have power over how you present yourself online. Your profile picture would look just as charming even without the incriminating red plastic cup.
Facebook aside, you also have power over giving away your personal information to other entities. If you’re sick of junk e-mail clogging up your inbox, stop giving away your e-mail address to every organization and company that offers you something you already know is too good to be true. If you’re just about ready to strangle the next telemarketer that calls during dinner, don’t fill out any more of those questionnaires at the mall. Our generation seems to be more willing than those of the past to give out personal information left and right.
It may be true that we’re living in the information age, but do you really want your information to be floating around cyberspace unsupervised? Even if you take something off your profile, it might still be attached to someone’s blog or stored on servers. Don’t want that video of your attempts at inebriated gymnastics to be accessible online anymore? Too bad. In order to enjoy our right to privacy, we first have to learn how to indulge in our ability to not be negligent.
-The writer, a freshman majoring in psychology, is a Hatchet columnist.