Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Knowing how to live with Facebook

Facebook has become ubiquitous; this is not news, or it is yesterday’s news. However, and regardless the level of new media literacy that people are supposed to have, more and more Facebook users get entangled in its web when the information posted there is used for purposes not originally thought of. It is important to note that every time that you engage in a discussion about uses of new media the common perception is that there are certain things that you don’t need to teach or even address anymore when dealing with young learners, because they are so new media savvy that you are in danger of making a fool of yourself if trying to explain things to them. But there it a fundamental mistake in that perception: knowing what buttons to press does not mean knowing how to use a technology. Using a technology implies knowing what buttons to press (a sine qua non requisite) but also knowing what is the impact that pressing that button will or may have in your own life and on that of others, and Facebook represents a prime example of the fact that many people have the ability to use new media, but do not know how to use it. Some recent situations show why.
In the Kiwi city if Queenstown the police arrested a burglar after posting security camera images of the suspect on the police’s Facebook page. Although in this case the information suggests that people identified the burglar through the Facebook’s posting but not through his Facebook profile, you can imagine a situation where the police posts a photo or video (there are several videos of suspects posted too) and, if the suspect does have a Facebook account (which is becoming more and more likely), a Facebook friend reports the suspect, all done and dusted within Facebook environment. If you think that no criminal or delinquent in any form would be so dumb to commit a crime and have a Facebook profile with a photo, just remember the case where the owner of a restaurant in Melbourne identified five customers that had oysters, trout and expensive wine and then left without paying the hefty bill, not before asking to the owner about a former waitress. The owner contacted the former employee and together searched in her Facebook friends where they found one of the culprits…furthermore, you even have people that commit crimes and then boast about them in Facebook…
The legal issues on the previous situations are not as straightforward as one may initially think. In the case of the police in New Zealand, one would imagine that the law allows the police to make public information that they may have obtained by lawful means with the purpose of fighting crime, and one would also imagine that the law has been properly updated to make sure that “make public” includes the use of any known information technology and on any platform. Although it is clear that most of us will support the use of new technologies to find a criminal, it is imperative to remember that while citizens are allowed to do everything that the law does not expressly prohibits, the state can only do what the law expressly allows it to do (while in the last few years laws have been passed giving very broad and swiping powers to different states, that is technically a transvestite of the rule of law and it is to expect that future governments understand that regarding how right they think they are, it has been the rule of law what has continuously differentiated us from the dictators of the moment). So, a general power to “take any measure for the prevention of crime” would not (should not) do it. A more precisely tailored and explicit authorization for the use of information in such way would be needed (which we can assume that New Zealand has). The situation with the bill dodgers and their “friend” the former waitress things look different. Taking into account that the restaurant owner is not a public authority, here in Europe it can be strongly argued that the use that the former waitress made of the bill-dodgers information would constitute a breach of data protection legislation (since processing has been defined in such all-encompassing form, it seems that the waitress could be deemed data processor too…). Furthermore, showing user’s profile and the photo to the restaurant owner could also be interpreted as a breach of Facebook’s terms of services, that clearly establish that the user is “granted a limited license to access and use the Site and the Site Content and to download or print a copy of any portion of the Site Content to which [he/she has] properly gained access solely for your personal, non-commercial use…[and] any other use of the Site Content is strictly prohibited”.
On the other hand, there are also those who try to give to things that are posted on Facebook more value than they actually have, and others that don’t understand that the information that their Facebook friends make available to them in Facebook does not automatically becomes public because of that. While I was writing this post a student came to see me because a teacher had reprimanded him for posting on his Facebook status that he may had gotten a mark higher than he actually got, and that other students had complained why they had not gotten high marks too. Without entering into the fact that I don’t understand how a student can complain about not getting the same mark (or similar) that a classmate (what I actually don’t understand is how a teacher would entertain that conversation), the issue there is that the student/s that transmitted the information to the teacher probably did not have the right to do so. In addition to Facebook’s terms of service, explained above, the law has clearly established that information shared with many still can be of private nature, as in Douglas and Jones v Hello [2001], which could lead to the understanding that the students in question committed the tort of breach of confidence, being the requirement that the information should have the necessary degree of confidence and provided in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence satisfied by the fact that the information is available only to Facebook friends who are part of a network that prohibits non-personal use of it (the triviality issue established in Faccenda Chicken Ltd v Fowler [1987] is a matter of fact to be analysed in each particular case).
So, it seems that we are all using it, but not many knowing how…

1 comment:

Disneykavs said...

What a lesson!So interesting, I love it.