If you do not need O’Reilly Radar – you might want to subscribe. This morning O’Reilly Radar was bringing up the idea of how social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed and others are changing not just how we hire, but how we determine credibility and trustworthiness in the communities we interact with.
What is interesting in the O’Reilly article this morning was the discussion around security clearances for the military and for contractors. The security clearance routine is almost a rite of passage, if you want to work in government or the military as anything you have to be deemed trustworthy by a series of investigations. The more secret squirrel information you are going to see, the higher the clearance level, and the deeper the investigation into your past, your activities, and your beliefs. Anyone who as sat through the “lifestyles” polygraph test can attest to some very interesting questions that are designed to elicit a reaction from the person taking the polygraph. It was one of my more unique experiences that I can never talk about.
What was very cool about my military experience is that I was literally living with anywhere from 7 to 175 of my closest newest friends depending on where I was and what team I was with. The military attempts to foster a deep sense of loyalty to not just the people you will fight and die alongside, but a sense of trust throughout the entire community from your immediate supervisor all the way through the President. But it was all based on “trust but verify”. Your clearance was the “verify” part of the process.
The military experience is one with a very small town feeling, we all know our neighbors, we all live in a fish barrel, and if you have a clearance, in many ways you are living in a fishbowl. Everyone knows everything about you that you have publicly and in many cases privately stated. It is the old TV Show “Cheers, where everyone knows your name”. Cheers monetized alcoholism, Facebook wants to monetize conformity into a social norm based on a person’s stated friends, likes, and interests. Either way there is a monitization component to the process that might offend folks, and indeed does raise worries about what web sites are doing and how people are tracked across the internet.
Facebook is offering a “panopticon” into your life, the more you share the more you are part of the “group”. This is the same kind of social pressure to conform that happens in high school or in other groups where norms can be enforced publicly. Military people, especially military people with high level clearances will get this concept immediately. Kids in High School will get this immediately, the pressure to conform and be like anyone or everyone else is what Facebook is offering, under the gentle guidance of having what you do so immediately public that deviation from the societal norm could result in losing a job, or a clearance, or friends.
The panopticon can be many things, but as we move deeper into social networking we are going to learn things about each other that will homogenize us into the populations that we deal with on a daily basis. Those that fall outside the norm behaviorally or socially within that small group of people will quickly be drummed out of the group. Internet consumers already have a long experience with this by combating trolls from the early days of the internet. Facebook simply provides us a one stop shop, are they really all that they seem; are they socially and culturally going to fit into the culture/society of the work place? Are they who they state they are?
Clearances aside, we have plunged head first into this world without a safety net, without guidelines, and without any recourse under law that is firmly established to protect people or keep companies from building the “walled garden” panopticon that social networking can represent. When the CEO of the major social network states they do not believe in privacy, that organization will implement the fishbowl process that we see with government and security clearances. We all know everything about each other, and we know how startlingly similar we really are, regardless of where we are in the world.
The thing we need to remember, and the thing that we seem to continually forget is that anything we post on the internet is public. If we are going to understand this we need to start hammering this message home as much as we hammered home the message “don’t click on that attachment in email”. While education will not solve all problems, there are still people who click on those enticing email attachments, it is at least a start. The public debate we are having now is good, but it is time to start reminding people that what they post is public, open to public interpretation, and societal pressures to conform to societies determination of what is right and appropriate behavior. We see this in military communities around the world, including those with security clearances. This small town fishbowl is starting to be incorporated into everyday lives, how we live, what we do, where we go, what movies we watch, what music we listen to, and even to what we had for dinner.
The good thing about the internet is you can find a support group for just about anything, the question is how much do you want to post about yourself, and how much do you want people to really know about you?
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- Paradox and Promise: MySpace, Facebook, and the Sociopolitics of Social Networking in the Writing Classroom (tc.eserver.org)
- US Senator wants FTC to regulate privacy on Facebook, other social networks (boingboing.net)
- What do Facebookers think of the Senate getting involved in site’s privacy issues? (trueslant.com)
- Facebook Beacon 2.0 (lockergnome.com)
- Are Social Networks Too Closed? (ostatic.com)
(Cross-posted @ TechWag )