Jennifer Contreras, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2015 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: "As a generation who grew up with the Internet at their disposal, Millennials have developed a view on sharing information via social media that is unique to their generation, with the line between what should and should not be shared online continuing to blur. In your opinion, what are the advantages of the ease of assessing information via social media, and in what ways does using these sites compromise privacy? Do the benefits outweigh the costs?"
Social media in today’s age is playing a major role in the ways that information, both public and private, is being shared. This makes finding news about major political and world-changing events as easy to find as information about your friend’s cousins new dog that likes chasing squirrels. The advantages of the ease of assessing information via social media include the ability to see primary news as it happens from people experiencing noteworthy events posted in the form of videos and photos, the haste by which information can be discussed over social media, and the speed by which an event can be updated to relay the most recent news. Social media has made it possible for people to “tweet” or update their status regarding civil unrest while including photographic evidence. Social media is also quicker than the traditional news media for alerting people about information; whereas in the past, one had to wait to watch news on television after a reporter is able to comment on the story, now everyone can be a “reporter” by alerting their social circle about current events.
However, these sites compromise privacy by making one feel like everything is newsworthy by allowing and encouraging members to update personal information about themselves and sharing members’ personal information with advertisers. Does every “friend” on a Facebook page need to know about someone’s new cat? Probably not. These sites, however, make sharing private information easier without the user necessarily feeling like it is unsafe to do so. For example, on Facebook one can share their hometown, relationship status, family, etc. which can seem like a normal thing to do, but this is an easy way for someone’s identity to be stolen or for someone to be stalked. By using these sites, one is inherently giving up privacy because personal information is shared not only with “friends” they have chosen to be in their network, but with advertisers that use people’s “private” information to share ads that are personalized to the user. By signing up on these sites, users are willingly giving up their sense of privacy as they share information with friends and the world.
The benefits do outweigh the costs if one is strategic about what to post on social media sites. One of the most incredible capabilities of social media is the ability to share real-time information that otherwise may take longer to access if one has to wait for the evening news. It is amazing how social media has been used in modern revolutions to reveal government corruption and civil unrest. Since social media can be virtually used by anyone with Internet capability, it also allows anyone to share an opinion and have their voice be heard, which makes it possible for people to engage in discussion about issues affecting their communities, nations and even the rest of the world. Social media is a powerful tool that, if used appropriately, can be an amazing tool for democracy.
Jennifer is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Integrated Marketing Communication.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.