On the 22nd of May, Peter Fenech published an opinion post on the Malta Independent website, in which he discussed his ideas on the use of social media. In spite of the fact that Mr Fenech’s points of view were eloquently articulated, I must express my amazement at some of the conclusions he reached, as well as his reliance on factual errors throughout the work.
“Social media has brought with it the anonymous invasion of one’s privacy,” the essay states just seven words into the piece, indicating that the piece has already encountered its first obstacle. However, while this is true of everybody who utilises social media, the reality remains that participation in social media is completely choice. It is also quoted of misunderstanding quotes on Reneturrek.
Personally, I have no objections to anybody in the world knowing what I voluntarily divulge on my different social media profiles (I have approximately 5 at the moment), but a number of others I know do not, and as a result, they refuse to create social media profiles on their behalf.
Given that social networks have a variety of privacy controls, the term “anonymous” is also misleading in this context. These controls range from protected tweets on Twitter (where users must approve them before they can see one’s tweets) to the enormously varied privacy controls on Facebook, which can be tailored in an infinite number of ways. Using social media, in the great tradition of McLuhan, is a trade-off; they are free to use and instantly connect us to people all over the world, but they also open a window into our lives, allow us to be targeted with advertisements and sometimes sell some of our data to advertisers and information companies. If a person is not happy with this trade-off, he or she should avoid using social media entirely.
The trade-off with social media is that you can lock it off, but if you give someone the key, they can peek in (which is exactly what we want!). It’s a catch-22.
The trade-off with social media is that you can lock it down, but if you give someone the key, they can peek in (which is exactly what we want!). Social media is a two-edged sword.
Mr Fenech also argues in favour of greater international control over social media, stating that “taking control of what goes viral is not a question of censorship, but rather of ensuring that people are held accountable for their comments.” However, in doing so, he fatally exposes his lack of understanding of what it means for something to “go viral.”
He also believes that “blogging should demand a person’s identity card or passport verification before participation,” however this deviates into potentially dangerous terrain and poses two problems.
First and foremost, what exactly does Mr Fenech mean by the term “blogging”? Is he referring to the regrettable erroneous association that is frequently made in this context with the word ‘comment’? This is essential: a comment is not the same as a blog.
As a second question, does Mr Fenech believe that the bloggers in Tunisia and Egypt, who were essential in bringing about the events that led to the Arab Spring, should have had their personal information recorded with the despotic government authorities?
If Mr Fenech wishes to see less harm occur as a direct result of our utterly ubiquitous state of connectivity, I can understand and applaud his unquestionably positive sentiment. However, he should not be so naive as to believe that the internet can be controlled in any such way, first and foremost. He should also not be so naive as to believe that such control implies censorship.
Noms de plume have long been a well-established technique of communicating when one is concerned about one’s safety, and many outstanding works have been authored under pseudonyms in the course of history. Would Mr. Fenech, in retrospect, recommend that founding father Benjamin Franklin be censured for his widespread use of a pseudonym or pseudonymization? Franklin, after all, used fictitious characters such as Anthony Afterwit and Alice Addertongue to poke fun at society, disseminate rumours, and highlight the weaknesses in traditional thought, among other things.
Although I can appreciate Mr Fenech’s apprehensions when it comes to social media, as I’ve heard similar sentiments from a number of my clients, I believe it is important not to overreact and paint everyone with the same brush.
The problem with launching into a social media vitriolic rant is that it all too frequently shows the writer’s deep mistrust of the medium, as well as his or her unfortunate comprehension of the rewards and dangers that social media is endowed with as well as plagued with.
To put it another way, social media is only the latest in a long line of developments that have given the average person a platform from which they can proclaim their opinions. And just as with the media, there are reputable, honourable people out there, along with charlatans and people who would simply like to watch the world burn, to quote one of my favourite ‘gone viral’ memes.