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Archive for Friday, October 1, 2010

New perils exposed as Web users eagerly cede privacy

October 1, 2010

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— If you’re 20 years old or younger, you probably grew up using computers, cell phones, iPods, and Facebook. Photos, for you, are images not necessarily printed on paper. CDs are old hat. You take digital — digital everything — for granted.

In such a world, how easy is it to record and be recorded, to share your — or someone else’s — most intimate secrets by posting them on the Web?

All too easy.

Easy gathering and distribution of information are hallmarks of the digital age. They played out all too disastrously for first-year Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi.

Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in New York on Sept. 22, three days after roommate Dharun Ravi, 18, allegedly made and streamed online a secret video of an encounter between Clementi and another man.

Clementi’s body was identified Wednesday. Ravi and Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, also 18, have been charged with invading his privacy, and Middlesex County, N.J., prosecutors say bias-crime charges are possible.

Clementi even said farewell via Facebook: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

Clementi’s death has spurred fierce debate, on and off campus and on the Internet, about social media, changing notions of privacy, and whether or not what happened was a crime.

Emily Nussbaum, frequent writer on social media and privacy issues and editor at large for New York magazine, said, “I am completely baffled about why people don’t make a distinction between what you do and do not post.”

But she also sees three important forces at work in this story: “The availability and ease of the technology; the growing normalcy of porn, especially the rise of amateur porn, in which you post sexual images of yourself or others; and the social networking change in people’s attitude toward privacy.”

Neil Bernstein is an adolescent psychologist in Washington and author of “How To Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can’t.” He sees two trends converging: the “dilution of intimacy” brought about by the new media, and what he calls “behavior contagion,” or the tendency of people to do what those around them are doing.

The Web can connect people in strong, healthy ways, Bernstein said. But the dark side is that our notion of intimacy may be diluted.

“There’s a decreased empathy that sometimes comes with social media,” he said. “Because they’re online, people will consider themselves intimate with people they don’t really know at all. And this has an impact on relationships.”

Then there’s “behavior contagion.” All around you, your friends and acquaintances post information once thought “private”: names of boy- or girlfriends, social plans, secrets.

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