Wikileaks, Facebook and the Internet Age

We’re gearing up for the next Junta on Tuesday, February 1st at 8:30 PM (final confirmation on location coming soon, but will almost certainly be in Williamsburg). Rindy sent around an email about the agenda on Wikileaks, and while that would certainly be a robust discussion on its own, it occurred to me yesterday that there is a broader underlying theme.

Rindy is rather pro-Wikileaks and a colleague of mine that should be with us next Tuesday is quite anti. That same colleague is also extremely anti-Facebook and was ranting to me about their friend finder function. That function goes through a person’s contacts and sends out emails to people, even if they are not on Facebook, and suggests they reconnect with that person. My colleague’s latest fit of Facebook pique came because he received such a suggestion to connect with a recently deceased close relative.

Setting aside the awful feelings that such an email can bring up, the implications for our privacy are troubling. Facebook has found itself in this kind of hot water before. Like many people I find those issues problematic while also finding Facebook to have some great uses. Just the other day I got back in touch with a friend from college I was really tight with but hadn’t talk to in around 10 years. I had some big news to share recently and it was great way to let a lot of people I care about know when it all shook out. And then there are the implications of how it can affect societies where the media is constrained and social discourse hamstrung by authoritarian regimes. Roger Cohen had an excellent column this week¬†about the role¬†Facebook and Twitter played in the recent revolution in Tunisia that is a terrific example of people harnessing these new technological tools for the good of mankind.

Like most stories/issues that fascinate it is one with shades of grey, ambiguities, upsides and downsides. The Wikileaks storm has shed light on some dark corners of the world, helped us understand how effectively (or ineffectively) our government is going about the business we have elected it to do, and showed how diligently and intelligently US diplomats operate. It has also made such work for diplomats and intelligence officers potentially much more difficult and could make us less safe as a result. Governments need their secrets, they have a right to them. So do individuals using Facebook and other social media platforms. The balance that we strike on these issues is fluid as new technology shapes access and how we look at the world. Looking forward to talking about it next week.

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