The Web Equivalent of Nudists and Should You Commit Web 2.0 Suicide?; Is There a Biblical Framework on Privacy?

Happy Data Privacy Day Dr. Barrett Mosbacker, PublisherFacebook recently irked me.  I am a Facebook user but I am not a heavy user.  I keep up with a few colleagues and friends but mostly I post articles on Facebook that I believe others may find interesting.  I mostly use Facebook so that I can work through the biblical, educational, and social implications of social technologies as a Christian.  We are called to bring all of life under the Lordship of Christ—that includes Facebook and similar technologies. 

I also use Twitter (you can follow me @Bmosbacker).  I usually post an occasional link to an interesting article.  The exception is that I post my status as I travel.  My wife, children and secretary are able to keep up with me in real time and are immediately alerted if I have flight delays, etc. I also follow “Breaking News” the “CDC”, “TechCrunch”, AlertNet, and a few other organizations that provide timely and useful information. 

How did Facebook irk me?  The company changed its privacy settings to a default of “public”.  That meant that any information I posted on Facebook would be available to everyone on the Internet.  Facebook made this change because it is in the company’s interest to have as much information shared publically as possible. 

I have nothing to hide.  But I am very selective and careful about anything I put online.  I assume that anything I post could be made public.  Accordingly, I set virtually all of the privacy settings to the strictest level possible, exactly what Facebook prefer that I not do.

As an aside, if you want to commit Web 2.0 suicide, now you can.  This article explains what it is and how it is done.

Having just experienced Facebook’s effort to make our lives increasingly public, I found this particular article to be very timely: We All Live in Public Now. Get Used to It. Erick Schonfeld writes:

As the Web becomes more social, privacy becomes harder and harder to come by. People are over-sharing on Facebook and Twitter, broadcasting their whereabouts every ten steps on Foursquare and Gowalla, and uploading photos and videos of their most private imagemoments to the Web for all to see. It’s easy to say that privacy is dead, we all live in public now, and just deal with it.

But things are a bit more complicated. It used to be that we lived in private and chose to make parts of our lives public. Now that is being turned on its head. We live in public and choose what parts of our lives to keep private. Public is the new default.

Mr. Schonfeld goes on to quote Stowe Boyd:

Some people are the web equivalent of nudists: they live very open lives on the web, revealing the intimate details of their relationships, what they think of friends and co-workers, their interactions with family and authorities. But . . . even these apparently wide open web denizens may keep some things private, or secret.

As if to emphasize the point, one reader posted this comment to the article:

 My entire life is public! I use services like Foursquare and Twitter posting my location and pictures on my family and I.  I think people of my generation won’t care as much. It’s kind of second nature to me to just post everything I’m doing. I never really stopped to think about what I’m doing as being dangerous.  The future will be filled with people like me! :)

Thus the Question: Is There a Biblical Framework on Privacy?

I recognize that our country’s forefathers embedded certain notions of privacy in the Constitution and Bill of Rights but these do not directly address the development of a biblical framework for privacy on the Internet.  More specifically:

  • How does privacy apply to 21st century technology?
  • What should we be teaching students beyond being careful about what they post?  For example, is there a positive component to living a more public life online?  After all, if one grew-up in a very small village or town there is very little privacy as we typically conceive of it. 
  • Is individual privacy a human construct or a divine one? 
  • What are the limits? 
  • Is it sinful to post personal information on the internet that is not intrinsically evil?
  • What are the caveats and limits to privacy in the digital age?
  • How can we and our students use social networking in a redemptive manner, i.e., how can they use social networking in the normal course of living to glorify Christ (and I’m not referring to presenting the Gospel or apologetics—although that is certainly a good thing)? 

I have not formulated adequate answers to these questions yet (I’m working on it) but it seems to me that we have an obligation to grapple with these issues and to help our students do likewise.  We need to help them develop a biblical (not a traditional, conservative, or liberal) worldview on privacy and social media in the digital age.

What are your thoughts?  Please share you initial ideas by living a comment on this article or by posting your thoughts on the CSJ Facebook Discussion Board.