Two months ago, the Princeton sociologist Janet Vertesi tested the limits of digital privacy: she attempted to conceal her pregnancy from the Internet. She told her family and friends not to post about it on social media, used the untraceable Internet browser Tor and set up a new email account on a separate server.
On Monday in the Amphitheater, Jeffrey Rosen examined the right to privacy through a constitutional frame, exploring both historic and hypothetical cases in which privacy clashed with security or freedom of speech, or was conflated with property rights.
Robert Putnam may be one of the most renowned social scientists in the United States, but at one time he was a guinea pig in someone else’s social experiment. Mark Zuckerberg used one of Putnam’s classes at Harvard University to beta-test Facebook.
“A kid in my class was a roommate of his,” Putnam said. “If Facebook people had numbers, I’d be ‘006’ or something like that.”
“There is no demarcation of public and private space,” asserted Anne Foerst at her Wednesday 2 p.m. Interfaith Lecture. Her topic was “Social Media and the Church.”
“I went to a conference, and people were constantly texting. They seemed to think it was a waste of time to meet new people,” she said. “That takes away the joy of going to a conference.”
Foerst is associate professor for computer science at St. Bonaventure University, and she has worked in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Have you seen people texting in church or at a funeral?” Foerst asked.
Humans are physical, communal beings, and the universal presence of social media is changing how people interact.
In exchange for a digital identity, people have given up their privacy.
Google has kept archives of emails sent and friends’ replies for the last six years. Facebook tracks people’s activities all over the Internet, even when they are logged off. And Twitter taps into entire address books when people use the “find friends” option and archives it for 18 months.
For those who do not use Facebook or Twitter, that does not mean no one is watching them, said Dahlia Lithwick, who reports on the law and the U.S. Supreme Court as a senior editor of Slate magazine. People can be tracked by turning on their phones, using an E-ZPass or using a Starbucks card.
There is something reassuring, yet ironic, about Marne Levine, vice president of Facebook’s global public policy, discussing and explaining “The Power of Social Media” at 3 p.m. Saturday for the Contemporary Issues Forum presentation in the Hall of Philosophy. Think of it as a face-to-face meeting with Facebook, the current digital phenomenon, and perhaps a chance to view Facebook as just one element in the continuum of human communication.
But each era has its own dynamic, and it is difficult to imagine any past communication tool that would have produced a Tahrir Square or flash mobs. Levine will ask the audience to imagine what might be the consequences of public policy for 900 million people who are all linked together.
“I hope I will create a greater understanding of the power that social media can bring, get people to think how this can be used and what the import globally can be,” Levine said.