Editor’s Column – Facebook: When Privacy Goes Public

Laura Stoloff

Social networking on the Internet has changed the way we live our lives. The question remains: For better, or for worse? Facebook, in particular, has forever transformed our means of communication and our social values. But in an age where communication happens typically through email and text messages, have we as a society limited our potential? Or have we broadened our horizons?

Facebook has become a tool that allows you to expose your personal life to the entire world. At any given second, a Facebook friend or stranger in your network can view your profile. They can follow your every move through your pictures, photo comments, wall posts and status updates. Although Facebook has many positive aspects, such as keeping in touch with old friends and job networking, it has created a society in which personal communication faintly exists.

“What did you do this summer?” people ask at the return of the school year. But what they’re really thinking is, “Oh wait, I already saw your summer internship and pictures on Facebook.”

Not only has Facebook taken away from face-to-face relationships, but also, as reported in an article by Hannah Seligson in The Wall Street Journal (May 16, 2008) titled “The Rise of Bodysnarking,” Facebook has created an atmosphere in support of “the snide, often witty, comments that have become a ubiquitous part of under-30 female conversation.” The second you sign onto Facebook, the news feed appears, which highlights the “gossip” of the day. Torn relationships appear with a broken heart next to a person’s name, photo albums reflect the atmosphere of last night’s party, and wall posts between two different people become readily visible.

I recall the day I signed up for Facebook. The August before school freshman year, when I received my Colgate e-mail, I was allowed to create a profile. I was curious to see who would be entering my first year with me. I wanted to see what people looked like. I remember sifting through profiles noticing all different types of people. There were the “preppy kids,” the “athletes,” and the quintessential nerds. Some of the impressions I still have of people at Colgate are from my first look at their profile pages freshman year.

I have always believed the saying, “You can never take back a first impression.” First impressions live with you forever.? Your Facebook profile, unfortunately, makes a lasting impression on other people. There your pictures are exposed, and at any given time throughout the day someone is critiquing your old pictures, new pictures, looking at your summer tan, and noticing your summer weight loss or gain. Now people are focusing more time on looking at Facebook pictures, and often this activity takes place in large groups.

“When tabloid culture has made it fine to dissect other women’s looks, bodysnarking appears to be a favorite female pastime,” Seligson said.

Instead of scrutinizing celebrities in their everyday dress and actions, Facebook allows us to do the same thing to strangers and friends.

?”Fifteen years ago…that too-tight dress you wore out on Saturday might have been a topic of conversation for a few days among the handful of people who were on the scene,” Seligson said. “In 2008, your button-popping image can instantly be sent to everyone in a cellphone’s address book…”

The ability to blog under these pictures makes it even more dangerous. Anyone can comment under a friend’s picture, with the most common comments being, “You look ridiculous” or “hahaha.” Facebook is allowing us look at our friends in the most critical eye.

However, it’s also affecting the way in which we see ourselves and making our every move more calculated. Most girls don’t want to be caught on Facebook with a wardrobe malfunction that their friend might think is funny or a picture of them from a night that got out of hand. The most concerning part of this new era is the motivation behind posting, viewing and judging these pictures — usually, to see one another fail or make embarrassing mistakes.

?’Today we have been trained to look for the potentially mockable thing, whether it’s of a celebrity or of someone we know,’ Anna Holmes, Editor-in-Chief of Jezebel, the Gawker Media-owned women’s blog, said in the article. People at colleges and high schools have become celebrities like you see in US Weekly, allowing you to talk about the person freely, commenting on their hairstyles and fashion choices. Seligson agrees that “[it] seems counterintuitive, somehow, that ugly pictures sell magazines. But, according to Ms. Holmes, stories about celebrity weight-loss with before-and-after photos now fly off the shelves.”

There appears no end to bodysnarking, and what seems even more frightening is the fact that for the next generation, it will start in early childhood.