On Facebook privacy

September 29, 2010 at 5:45 am Leave a comment

I came across a fascinating article about Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg in The New Yorker. Zuckerberg discusses how society’s notions around privacy are evolving and how the world, in his view, would be a more honest place if we were open and transparent about who we were. Zuckerberg seems genuinely flummoxed when the author of the article tells him that he deliberated for a long time on whether to indicate his sexual interest in men on Facebook, ultimately deciding against it. Vargas, the author, concluded that he did not want his professional colleagues to learn about his sexual orientation from his Facebook page. Ironically, Vargas’ orientation will be revealed to anyone who bothers to read his article.

The rules are different online, especially in Zuckerberg’s world. Openness is the default; privacy the alternative. Facebook forces us to challenge what we’re comfortable divulging about ourselves. Zuckerberg is a young, 26 years old, heterosexual male, from a presumably well-to-do Jewish family. He inhabits a position of privilege and good fortune and has, it seems, relatively few skeletons in his proverbial closet. For him, the risks of divulging details about his personal life are not the same as they would be for a dissident in Iran, say, or a queer individual living in the closet for the sake of preserving his/her safety. If I were queer in Africa or a defender of free speech living under a totalitarian regime, I might think twice before setting up a Facebook profile. Who’s to stop a violent government from using what I post on Facebook against me?

For me, navigating Facebook’s waters is challenging enough. I lived the first 24 years of my life as a female. Many of the people I knew as a woman might be shocked to discover that I’m now a man. For the longest time I didn’t permit my profile to appear in public searches because I was terrified that someone from my distant past would track me down. Since then I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to live my life in fear. Sure, someone from my past may well come across my facebook profile, but there are also many legitimate friends out there that I would love to reconnect with. Am I really going to give up on that chance for the sake of protecting my privacy? And even if someone was shocked to discover my, well, secret would that really be the end of the world? Transsexuals exist. And we’re not freaks. It’s about time the world got used to it.

My own view is this: I will friend those who want to friend me. They may learn about my past from my profile and if they do, they can decide if they want to keep on reading or unfriend me again. In the end, I don’t want to lie about who or what I am. It’s up to other people if they care to listen.

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Entry filed under: Technology, Transgender. Tags: , , .

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