It used to be said that an Englishman’s castle is his home and certainly it was from a privacy point of view.
A great deal has been written on the nature of privacy in the social media age recently but the scale of the change was brought home to me by the tragedy of Ashleigh Hall, who was murdered after meeting up with a ‘friend’ she had met through her Facebook account.
The Facebook page showed Peter Chapman as a teenager when in reality he was a 35 year old registered sex offender. As the Daily Mail headline across half the front page asked ‘Who’s Your Child Talking to on Facebook Tonight?”.
The sheer openness of social media is at stake. As stated a home used to be castle in the late 20th century: electronic family life took place within closed channels; the telephone was fixed and family regulated; television was a joint activity involving parental guidance; and if anything the most social form of content was music.
The level of interaction with the outside world introduced by the world wide web was unimaginable. Today, as the web celebrates its sixteenth birthday, we don’t appear to have developed a full understanding of what this new form of privacy means.
It is easy to dismiss the Daily Mail and threats from a new order of privacy that is being ushered in by the widespread adoption of social media, but it’s impact is profound. One reaction may be to see if we can re-engineer the old world of privacy.
Yet this is an option that could be self defeating, as clearly the need to educate and create new behaviours is at the heart of safe behaviour in a social media society. To ignore this and pretend children are not going to access social media and networking sites would be to deny them this protection. Yet with all the education in the world mistakes can happen.
So, should society regulate to create greater protection, should it be illegal to present an image of oneself that is patently false?
A truly adequate response requires an understanding of what privacy means in this new world, and the creation of social systems that help prepare and guide people from many aspects.
The social media industry itself must face this challenge head on and in conjunction with government, education and consumer groups otherwise the arguments for regulation take root.