A certain video on YouTube of a "cute rant" by a young woman recently, that instantly became viral and created an uproar, has warranted serious contemplation of a statement made by the founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg that the "age of privacy was over" and its applicability to the Maldives.
Despite international criticism of Zuckerberg’s claims, recent trends beg the question whether the age of privacy in the Maldives was laid to rest by our own hands and by our own choosing.
Pertaining to the referred video, what’s ironic is that she had made the video allegedly not intended for the prying eyes of the whole country, but to air her grievances of “jobless” people stealing her pictures on Facebook and posting it on various social networking groups. The critical reception she received has inspired her to overlook and ignore her complaints of invasion of privacy and make a public spectacle of herself by means of a series of videos now ventured into her views on politics.
She is not alone in her efforts to gain often misguided stardom. Maybe not in the same extreme, most social network users opt to disclose private and intimate elements of our day to day lives that often borders on the mundane and the humdrum.
Ten years ago, people in the Maldives on most parts were bashful, modest and reserved. But the increased access to two minutes of fame at your fingertips provided you are daring and prepared to make a mockery of your pride and dignity is assured.
There was a time with the exception of those in the most intimate parts of our lives; we didn’t really want to know everything that people thought of us. Nor did we want to know everything we thought about them, or share it. A certain amount of artifice was deemed necessary to get through the day.
Increasingly, however, it feels as though those limits are being constantly breached, either voluntarily, accidentally, by force or by shrewd. With blogs, tweets, webcams, Facebook and YouTube, there is always a mic or camera somewhere and it is always running. Our personal diaries have become an open book. The era in which we might reasonably expect to enjoy a conversation that is both autonomous and discreet has sadly come to an end. For the moment at least, we are all living our lives in public.
The personal fallout from all of this is clear and goes beyond mere embarrassment. Numerous websites and groups on social networking sites are dedicated to leaked videos and pictures of the young and not so young during their most intimate and vulnerable moments. While some are involuntary others are consented but most definitely intended for the eyes of a specific person and not for the whole world.
The constricting contours of confidentiality and discretion are not only confined to the general public. A recent trend of political and authoritative figures pronouncing policies, regulations and decisions through social networks has emerged.
Following the recent hacking of website of the Maldives Stock Exchange (MSE), the Police Commissioner ironically chose to tweet the decision to establish a Cyber Crime department. While the announcement was not unprecedented, the Commissioner is known to use his own personal twitter account to relay other such significant developments prompting the media to follow his tweets for imminent tip offs on Police actions.
To further exemplify the significance of social networks, the Attorney General’s office deemed it was important enough to issue an official statement denouncing an active twitter account in the name of the AG, claiming that it was in fact fraudulent.
On the same note, some MPs chose not resort to discretion during the mayhem that ensued inside the Parliament chambers following the reconvening of Parliament earlier this year. The minute by minute tweets of events and photos of the debacle that transpired behind closed doors were exhibited at a time when the attention of the world media had been fixed on our small island nation.
Though there are no rules or restrictions to official statements or developments of magnitude via social networking sites, it can be certainly classified as an unorthodox mean of disseminating such information. But such impulsive and on the spot pronouncements could have political and legal ramifications which could endanger the kind of back-door discussions that made everything from the Northern Ireland peace process to the release of Nelson Mandela possible in a way they would not have been had everything been on display.
Whether personal or political, the problem with the very public lives we now all live is essentially the same. People generally arrive at positions through trial, error and experimentation. They mature by making mistakes and learning from them. But if you feel the mic is always on, you're far more likely to do something anodyne for the record than think of something creative and take risks for all to see. The power to transmit amplifies not just the audience, but the consequences.
To drive home the point at least to a large extent, this is a problem of our own making. Our personal diaries are, in no small part, an open book because we open them. We put details about ourselves out into the ether that often forfeit our right to privacy. It is now not uncommon to see relationships disintegrate in real time as long-term partners’ air grievances openly online.
The personal, the private, the privileged and the confidential no longer really exist. The stories we would otherwise choose not to share are no longer ours to keep; the conversations we hope will go no further may just keep traveling. A remark may be off the cuff or off the top of your head – but nowadays, you must always assume it's on the record. The question is, do we really mind?