Masses Victorious

February 18, 2009

In the most recent battle with Facebook, users have come out victorious. The massive social network, Facebook, had made a change in their seldomly reviewed terms of use. That legal jargon found at the bottom of the page was changed nearly a week ago, deleting from it a clause refusing Facebook the right to claim any rights to original content added by a user even after that user closed their account. The original adaptation of the Terms of Use would have given Facebook the permanent right to information that was placed on a profile or uploaded onto the website. Effective this morning, Facebook had backed down and had removed their new language and reverted back to the old. Facebook then issued a statement saying that it was never an intention to confuse users of their exclusive right to their own content; yet this then raises the question of why was it changed in the first place and how will privacy be guarded with online profiles?

As a senior looking for a job, warnings about Facebook have come from all angles. Who knows which employers or colleagues will be engaging in Facebook research? Its always looming that certain HR staff in charge of hiring new employees utilize Facebook for background checks. But what truly are they looking for—that embarrassing Friday night back in Freshman year? That time you took a picture with the person with a questionable record? Most college graduates realize the pitfalls of college life and the recklessness with of some students’ lives, yet now with Facebook and MySpace this recklessness can be tracked. Two incidents that come to mind include the controversial photos of Administration officials taken during the transition to the White House that surfaced on Facebook, and the recent controversy over Michael Phelps. Both certainly indiscretions, but in this new age of wide-spread technology these photos come to light and spread like wildfire. Now in the Michael Phelps case, the ordeal has now been settled due to the fact that the photograph does not provide substantial evidence. But in both situations, it’s the reputation that’s been hit (and in Phelps’ case money was lost). For politicians it is much of the same in the sense that every step taken must be guarded and every word stated must be well thought out. So the question becomes, though the digital age clearly brings ease and transparency, what will happen to the privacy of every-day activities. With the understanding that now every single misstep has the potential to be publicized, which many of us have and will do, will we be less apt to react with astonishment? Or will the new realm of digital law seek to protect individuals from incursions on their privacy.

Now the picture ordeal is not on a direct parallel to the Facebook controversy, but isn’t it all linked? In an era where people post pictures without regard, and people write messages and notes without second thought; there needs to be a new engrained sense of digital accountability for users. Now its no longer just an ecological footprint, people are leaving their digital footprint everyday. The history is there, just search on Google. But for today at least, users have risen up together to protect themselves. In a test of a social community, they have secured their rights to erase their footprint online—yet only on Facebook. With an ever-expanding digital profile, what will be the next big fight?

–Michael Mandell

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