Tag Archives: privacy

“My name is ___, and I’m leaving Facebook.”

A good friend of mine just sent around an email, announcing that he will quit Facebook. He agreed that I put it up. Maybe somebody wants to use it as a template for announcing his or her own withdrawal from the social network. Also, I’m hoping to update this post later once my friend told me how he’s dealing with his new-found isolation/liberation. If you’ve gone through similar experiments, please share your experience. Continue reading

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Peaceful co-existence – Social networks and niche communities

Last Saturday, I went on a Deutschlandradio Wissen talk show to discuss online communities. The other two speakers were Sarah Krohn, moderator at hungrig-online.de, and Mark Ralea, community and marketing expert. What it came down to was an interesting discussion of large social networks versus smaller niche communities. Continue reading

Privacy and innovation – two parts of the same story

The information society has given birth to a popular new German word – “gläserner Mensch”, meaning a human being made of glass or simply “transparent individual”. It encapsulates Germans’ widespread fears that Google, Facebook, the state and others record every bit of information about them. Unfortunately, this disproportionate emphasis on privacy and data protection threatens to suppress innovation. A call for a more balanced discourse. Continue reading

Illegal file sharing in the UK – Three strikes and you’re out

strike

The Phillies have just won the fifth game of this year’s World Series against the Yankees and people in the UK couldn’t care less. They prefer the more gentlemanly version of the game called cricket. Only when it comes to combating illegal file sharing do UK lawmakers borrow a bit of baseball terminology (the author apologizes for such a sleazy introduction). A “three-strike” policy will soon be rolled out, which may lead to offenders’ Internet connections being cut in 2011. But is that gonna help? Continue reading

Teachers, students, technology – New and shifting boundaries

classroom

I just quickly want to advertise a brilliant article I found in yesterday’s Guardian supplement about how new communication technologies change the relationship between teachers and students. The starting point is the most recent moral scandal in the UK which saw a female teacher being jailed for having an affair with a 15-year-old girl. A large number of the text messages they had exchanged were used as evidence in the case.

The Guardian article by John Henley offers a very balanced and nuanced perspective on how teachers and students have started to interact through new technologies. It’s all about boundaries that were once clearly established and now seem to become permeable. It’s about questions such as “Should I be friends with my students on Facebook?” or “Is it okay to send them emails?”.

When teachers and students suddenly meet in some virtual space, there are risks for both parties. So far, most public attention has focused on teachers who find themselves ridiculed on some video website or photo blog. Germany recently witnessed a court case in which a teacher had sued against an online portal which allows students to grade their teachers. The case was lost, but sparked a controversial discussion about any kind of rating websites, from doctors to travel companies.

As several cases cited in the Guardian article illustrate, students are also at risk when teachers use these new media to approach them in an indecent fashion. Oftentimes, social networking sites and other virtual spaces cannot offer enough control over the interactions they enable. This problem clearly extends beyond the teacher-student relationship into online child pornography in general.

What does it mean to be a teacher?

The bigger picture here is not so much about being ridiculed or indecent contact with minors. It’s about the changing role and self-understanding of teachers in an age of free-flowing information. It will no longer be possible for them to guard their classroom as a little island where they enjoy unchallenged authority over what knowledge gets circulated and how students learn. Teachers and schools will need to adjust to a new information environment in which they provide guidance on how to deal with these massive amounts of information.

That includes opening themselves up to new communication technologies (social networking sites, email, etc.) and figuring out a way in which they engage with their students while maintaining important boundaries.

The trouble with Facebook friends

FB-friends

There’s plenty of talk at the moment about the impact of social networking sites on friendship. Bring up the topic at a party or during a coffee break and you will certainly trigger quite a lively discussion. Some will tell you that Facebook is the end of friendship as we know it. Others will proudly report how they reconnect and interact with so many more people than they used to and how that certainly cannot be a bad thing, can it?

I would offer a boring compromise. My close friends are still my close friends and there will always be only a handful of them. Similarly, there will always be a few hundred others I’m just not that close to – whether they now populate my Facebook newsfeed or not. In other words, social networking sites are unlikely to change how important a person is to me, but they will change the way I interact with them. It adds and alters the mix of communication channels.

0=not a friend, 1=friend

A general problem in this discussion whether it’s good or bad to have 583 Facebook friends is this inconspicuous little word “friend”. It’s quite a tricky one. Facebook deals with friends in a binary fashion. 0=not a friend, 1=friend. It might be a cultural thing that Americans see the world that way, but it’s certainly a bit too black and white for the rest of us. Of course, for a critical commentator, it is then quite easy to jump at a friends list with 583 people and announce the end of friendship.

Would it help if Facebook had a more nuanced friends classification scheme? Let’s say, it could range from “most awesome best friend in the world” to “randomly met at a party on my way out”. While this would certainly make it more clear that not all Facebook friends are created equal, it would be terribly unfeasible, as I recently discovered.

Friends on a scale from 1 to 10

I decided to do a bit of social management on my Facebook friends list. My newsfeed had been full of stuff and people I wasn’t interested it, my privacy settings didn’t distinguish between different groups of people, and overall I wanted to have a bit more intimacy with those close friends I care about. So the idea was to create different lists (you can do that) and assign friends to them according to how close I am to them.

This failed. I must admit that rating friends according to some one-dimensional scale is a terrible, useless, and probably quite unethical idea. From a practical point of view, I had to give up after 10 people or so because it took me forever for each of them to decide where to put them. Funnily enough, while I was thinking about them and where to put them, they tended to move back up the scale and I felt the urge to contact them immediately.

So in the end, I ended up creating lists according to how I know the person, for example high school, work, and so on. This turned out to be quite nice because I can now tune in to different social news streams from different stages of my life. I also ended up deleting a few people because – despite all my research attempts – I could not figure out who they are and how I know them.

Big Brother and the “people like you and me” genre

bigbrother

When I came to the UK last year, the TV show “Big Brother” was already ailing, it seemed. After ten seasons or so, the country had lost interest in the idea of locking up a bunch of ever more quirky human beings to broadcast their attempts to kill time. As a last outburst – as a Big Brother supernova, if you like – the media had just squeezed every last drop of news value from the death of Jade Goody, the most famous Big Brother candidate in the UK. Last Wednesday, Channel 4 announced that it will discontinue the show in 2010.

It seemed to me that Big Brother passed away rather quietly – no uproar, no vociferous calls for five more seasons, just a few flashbacks to the most unforgettable moments. But Big Brother certainly deserves some credit. If it didn’t invent it, the program definitely popularized the “people like you and me”-genre. It was the epitome of Andy Warhol’s prediction that we shall all enjoy our 15 minutes of fame, in some cases converting these into 15 minutes of shame.

Now, if we say that people got tired of Big Brother, did they also get tired of the “people like you and me” genre? I would love to say that the answer is “yes”. After ten seasons or so, we came to realize that it’s boring to watch other people going about their day-to-day life. In fact, it would be nice to say that we rediscovered how exciting our own lives can be and that we no longer need the distraction of watching locked-up Big Brother candidates.

Unfortunately, there’s only little evidence that we got tired of the “people like you and me” genre. In fact, it appears to me that we got bored with Big Brother because it wasn’t Big Brother enough… if you know what I mean. How cumbersome to put people in a house for three months until they finally perform something worth broadcasting. How constraining that all those moral conventions of regulated mainstream media still apply. Big Brother was only the beginning, not the end, of the 15-minutes-of-fame culture.

The irony of it all is that we have indeed rediscovered how exciting our own lives can be – and how fun it is to share them with everybody out there. Instead of one Big Brother, we now have millions of little brothers all filming and broadcasting themselves. It is easy and tempting to apply a strict moral judgment on this trend; one that condemns the shameless self-promotion and exhibitionism. But it is equally possible to herald Youtube videos as a form of cultural expression and identity-shaping self-representation. I postpone this debate until the next pub visit later.