Butch Mazzuca: The Internet doesn’t forget
About a month ago a friend’s 14-year old daughter asked him if she could use his digital camera. Without giving his daughter’s request a second thought my friend replied, “No problem, Honey, go right ahead.”
Several days later he noticed a new folder on the desktop of his computer. Being a bit curious, he opened it and to his surprise discovered about two dozen photos of his daughter and her best friend in, let’s just say, “suggestive” poses. There was no pornography per se, but there were a lot of sultry glances over bare shoulders and backs, and “come hither” looks with arms folded across bare chests.
After my buddy regained his equanimity, he took his daughter aside and had a heart-to-heart about the dangers of this type of activity. Fortunately for all concerned, the girls hadn’t e-mailed any of photos to their friends ” but what if they had?
In 2002, an overweight and not-so-well coordinated 14-year old boy videotaped himself waving a golf ball retriever as if it were a Star Wars light-saber. The video was discovered by some of the young man’s classmates, and thinking it would be funny, encoded it to a Windows Media file and shared it using the Kazaa peer-to-peer file sharing network.
Within two weeks, the file was downloaded several million times. Soon, various renditions of the video began popping up all over the Internet. Creative techies added Star Wars music, texts, and light-saber lights and sounds including a battle scene where the young man gets his butt kicked by a digitalized Yoda. It’s been estimated by The Viral Factory that the video had been viewed over 900 million times, making it the most popular “viral video” on the Internet.
The young man has come to be known as the “Star Wars Kid,” and has now appeared in a video game and on the TV shows “Family Guy” and “South Park”. As law professor and author of “The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age,” Daniel Solove wrote, “It is one thing to be teased by classmates in school, but imagine being ridiculed by masses around the world.”
As it turned out, the teen dropped out of school, had to seek counseling and his parents are now embroiled in a lawsuit, which states in part that he, “had to endure, and still endures today, harassment and derision from his high-school mates and the public at large” and he “will be under psychiatric care for an indefinite amount of time.” All of this from a simple video never intended for public consumption.
For the first time in history, anybody can disseminate information about anyone or anything, knowing it will travel around the world at light speed and no one can do anything about it until it’s too late The aforementioned 14-year old was just a kid messing around with a video camera; now he’s ridiculed by millions.
The number of young people using social networking web sites such as Facebook and My-Space is staggering. It is estimated that at most college campuses more than 90 percent of students maintain their own sites; and to no one’s surprise, some sites encourage the dissemination of information that should be remain private.
There’s http://www.JuicyCampus.com where any enterprising young man can ask “Who’s the biggest slut on campus?” and receive salacious replies about someone’s daughter. Then there’s http://www.Don’tDateHimGirl.com, a site that invites women to post comments about men they have dated including real names and photographs. And if you want to know how nasty some of those posting can be, recall the phrase, “Hell hath no fury …”
Several years ago Facebook launched a feature called news feeds, which automatically sent notices to people’s friends whenever the individual change his or her profile ” the operative word being “automatically.” Before the Internet, gossip was spread word-of-mouth and was usually confined to specific social circles. But today we can share explicit details about experiences that were once the private domain of diaries and a simple post on YouTube can provoke global ridicule.
A compelling argument can be made that between the Internet and the ubiquitous use of cell-phone cameras, privacy in the United States is a thing of the past. So what’s the answer to this 21st century dilemma? Both the Europeans and Canadians have more stringent privacy laws than we do; so perhaps appropriation, confidentiality and public privacy tort reform is the first place to look for solutions. In the meantime however, parents would be well advised to have a sit-down with their youngsters.
Young people must be made to understand that once a piece of information, a photo or a YouTube video is posted on the Internet, the unintended consequences can be devastating; and once something makes it to cyberspace, kids also need to realize that it’s going to be there long after the novelty of posting a few photos wears off.
Quote of the Day: “All violations of essential privacy are brutalizing” ” Katharine Fullerton Gerould
Butch Mazzuca is a business consultant and writes weekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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