I’ve been following with interest the story of how Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg are responding to the recent public and congressional outcry regarding just what the company does with the intimate details of our lives we choose to give away so publicly and so freely.
I went to the same boarding school as Mark Zuckerberg, several years earlier. “The facebook” was the spiral bound notebook we all received at the beginning of the year with the photos, names and basic details of every student and faculty member, designed to make it easier to get to know everyone within our school community. It was something we all constantly used in that time period before the internet became so ubiquitous.
My personal stance on privacy has always been that if I have nothing to hide then I shouldn’t worry about what information is or isn’t out there about me, whether I choose to post it or someone else does. But as my son stares down the barrel of his teenage years, I watch him and his peers working so hard to navigate what is arguably the most challenging period in anyone’s life. And they do it in the face of technology and a culture that equates happiness with a very public sharing and validation of every little detail of our daily lives. I start to much more closely and critically question the current state of things and where it all might possibly be headed.
As a member of a minority religion that has been attacked in the media since its founding nearly 70 years ago, I also spend time thinking about the balance between freedom of speech and corporate and social responsibility. If you own a company that makes its income based on the exchange of information, what is your responsibility to the community and the world to ensure that the information is true and factual? And is it even possible for a company like Facebook to successfully regulate its content for veracity and moral acceptability?
The conclusion I come to over and over again is that it always comes down to the responsibility of each individual. I can’t protect my son from everything that’s out there on the internet and in other media, whether it’s a slanderous article about my church or a website glamorizing drug use or promiscuity or excessive violence. What I can do is spend time with him, communicate openly and freely and ensure he feels safe to do the same. And I can do everything I possibly can to set a good example myself online by making sure I only post about things that I feel have value and will help the ongoing societal conversation. That doesn’t mean it always has to be weighty and serious. A good puppy video is just what the world needs sometimes…
I’m glad we’re engaging in a very public and heartfelt debate about corporate responsibility from companies like Google, Facebook and Apple. Consumers have much more power than they realize and are the real solution for holding these companies accountable. But in my view, it’s much more important and effective in the life of every individual to look around their immediate environment, online and off, and ask “What part of this can I take responsibility for?”
It’s a very empowering thing to do. And I find that when I personally decide what I will and won’t allow into my space, whether it’s by turning off the news, logging off the web for a while, or simply taking the time to really communicate with my family members about how their day went, that I have much more control over my day-to-day life experience than any media company or corporation.