Internet Community Violates Privacy

There is a movement spreading through the World Wide Web. It is coming to us from sites such as myspace and facebook. There are hundreds of websites that bring together large groups of people who collectively form a community.

I must confess that I don’t really understand this community movement online. Facebook is one site in particular which baffles me. It is a way to find old acquaintances with ease. I joined it and had a profile up for about a week. I was immediately overrun with friend requests. Most of the people that wanted to add me as a friend were people that I had not spoken to since grade or high school. That feels like an eternity ago.

I checked out the profiles of some of my friends. One of them had 84 friends linked to him. 84 friends? Who has 84 friends? I certainly don’t. I looked at my list and noticed that my “friends” weren’t really my friends. I couldn’t even remember who a few of them were. Maybe we were friends once but I was in no rush to get reacquainted with them. Maybe I am wrong for thinking this. I don’t know.

One of my friends (I can’t remember who she is for the life of me) posted up all of our grade school class photos. She had also identified each person in the photos by name and row. My profile was now linked to these pictures because the website automatically does this. There, on the World Wide Web, were my class photographs; Grade 1-8. I also had a few pictures of me tagged on someone else’s profile and those were also linked to my profile. I found this to be an extreme violation of my privacy. I don’t think, class photos should be on the Internet. It freaked me out. I immediately deleted my profile and wish to have nothing else to do with that site.

I decided to check another online community to see what the appeal of all of this is. Wikipedia is an encyclopaedia that anyone can contribute to by creating new posts or editing existing posts. It is an amazing site that seems to be a great place to find information. From my experience, it has accurate information and it being used by the community it serves in the way that it was intended to. This sort of community, I can understand. Everyone working on entries, researching, or using the site as a research tool are working together for a common goal.

Wikipedia lists hundreds of online communities. It also attempts to explain why people chose to belong to these groups;

Peter Kollock (1999) researched motivations for contributing to online communities. In “The Economies of Online Cooperation: Gifts and Public Goods in Cyberspace”, he outlines three motivations (Kollock:227) that do not rely on altruistic behavior on the part of the contributor:

  • Anticipated Reciprocity
  • Increased Recognition
  • Sense of Efficacy

Okay, this makes sense.

Bullet number one simply means that someone will be motivated to contribute to a group when they believe they will receive useful help or information in return.

Bullet number two is an easy one to understand. Everyone hopes to be recognized and build up a reputation, myself included. Online communities can give someone who would normally have an opportunity to do so, a chance to.

Bullet number three also makes sense. I am sure everyone feels like they need to contribute something, that they can have an effect in their communities. It might not feel like we can have an effect in our physical community sometimes, but online, it just seems easier to manage.

Okay, so my research here has helped me understand this phenomenon a little bit more. I still feel that we might be putting ourselves too out there with these sites that ask for and track our personal identity information. I find it a bit scary that people can use these sites to find out a lot of information about someone. It makes me nervous. There are certain things that I am willing to share. I think we need to be careful out there. It’s a dangerous world even in here on the World Wide Web. I also realize the irony of me discussing this on a blog. But it is a discussion worth having. Let me know what you think.