It was another quiet day in social media. The Instagram photo birds were chirping with their songs of plated food and epic sunsets, Twitter was twittering, MySpace was sleeping, YouTube was bouncing with self-promotion and Facebook was humming with the statuses of the world. Then, KAPOW! Shock horror, Facebook privacy concerns. My feed was filled with frantic reposting of a status:
"In response to the new Facebook guidelines, I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details contained in my personal and business profiles, including, but not limited to: all postings, status updates, comments, illustrations, paintings, drawings, art, photographs, music, videos, etc. as per the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, (a/k/a the Berne Convention)"
Oh no, what do I do? How do I react? Should I repost? Wait a minute. When in my life have I ever managed to adjust a contract I go into with any company with a ham-fisted status update? So I waited and it became obvious that it was a fake. The collective eggs on faces were wiped away and the social universe was back to its dull hum of activity.
But I began pondering, who is really in charge of privacy on the Internet? Is it the social networks? A lot of people think so, but I have arrived at a slightly different perspective on this. So many of us are willingly sharing images, videos, text updates and geo-locations that I personally think the responsibility lives with all of us. Imagine if we were all to stop. Imagine if we wiped our profiles clean and just went back to plain old email. "That's so 2004!" I hear you cry. Well, yes it is. But isn't it a much more private life?
Okay, back to today. Parents, I set you a task. Take a picture of your family and kids, write an email with details about the pictures, add the email addresses of all the people in the pictures and email 300 of your friends, work colleagues, people you went to school with years ago and those random folk you can't quite place, attach the images and then send them. How do you feel? Does it feel right? Would you do it? If the answer is no then you need to seriously consider your social media habits.
In 2012, we have all fallen victim to viral mimetic behaviors that popular social networks have groomed us to undertake. We upload content so often that we do not consider the implications, invaded privacy and exploitation of data. All of your data will be used as a business advantage to allow for advertising to be targeted at you.
Okay, let's delete everything, that should stop the craziness. Well, that may not help. About 12 months ago an Austrian student named Max Schrems asked Facebook for a record of all personal data they held on him. He received 1,222 pages of it on DVDs, and much of it was information that he thought he had deleted. Austria, and much of Europe's, data storage laws are very tight about historical data and ownership. He thought that data should be deleted when he deleted it. So do many other people these days.
Jaron Lanier, an Internet pioneer from the early 1990s, talks about a "social contract" where the new "open data culture" and thinking that "information wants to be free" have produced a destructive new social contract.
The basic idea of this contract is that authors, journalists, musicians and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.
This is what we have become, and we are responsible for stopping it. If we choose to partake then we need to stop complaining and get into bed with every large brand that markets relentlessly to us.
I have written this piece with full knowledge that my contributions to my social network have an impact on me and those around me. I know I will be targeted with ads on social networks and I learn much about myself from that (mostly that targeting is pretty useless).
I implore you to ask yourself, "am I fully aware of what my actions mean?" and if not then please try and make sense of the terms and conditions of the numerous social networks you belong to. One should choose wisely what one shares and accept the fate one has chosen. If you take the higher ground and choose more traditional methods of communication then I applaud you and support you in your digital detox.
This story appears in Issue 26 of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, Dec. 7.