This morning I had a conversation with a friend about a new app that lets friends answer a variety of yes/no questions, and then provides a nice helpful graph about how wonderful you are based on what their answers reveal.
We saw the same problem–that a graph used to show us the positive could also be used in reverse to highlight the negative, and that those negatives can and will be used to bully others, particularly kids like her daughters. Both have been subjected to cyber-bullying in the last year.
Because that’s the kind of world we’ve created.
I’m fond of the show Person of Interest, especially the first season, because it made me more aware of privacy issues–specifically how the expectation of privacy is somewhat of an illusion. I had a few paranoid moments actually, as I watched the show’s trademark hacking into the various surveillance camera systems as their main knowledge base.
In one episode, the two main characters are discussing their person-of-the-week, who happens to be living off the grid. In other words, he had no photos online, and did not contribute or have profiles on social networking sites. The dialogue included this:
“The Machine needed more information. People’s social graph, their associations. The government had been trying to figure it out for years. Turns out most people were happy to volunteer it.” (Person of Interest–“Identity Crisis”)
I watch this happen on social media all the time. Every time there is quiz seeking to classify us with a “What Word Best Describes Your Best Personality Trait/Place to Live/Favourite Book/Movie Character/Book Heroine/Favorite Food/Special Whatchamathingamajig” quiz, I wonder if we are absent-mindedly creating profiles for free. I wonder what the information is really being used for.
Or how it is being used to demonstrate someone else’s determination of a person’s value.
I try not to volunteer too much information, but I have participated in some of the survey questions. I like to know if I’m predictable (and of course, we all are to some extent). I often wonder however, what that innocent information will be used for. We know some things–like store loyalty cards/cell phone apps–is used to determine what people are willing to pay for, and the kinds of things they consume. We know that tweets and social status updates are analyzed to determine where communicable diseases like flu and measles have clustered.
When it comes to cyber-bullying and kids in particular–especially those whose entire lives have been documented on social media–I’m concerned that helpful graphs that tell us how wonderful we are (and by association, how miserable we are) will be used to damage individuals.
“Turns out, most people are happy to volunteer it.”
Are we making a mistake?
Friday was #1000Speak Compassion Day. If you didn’t get a chance to read the thoughtful insights about bullying, why not check it out today? All the posts can be found here. Don’t forget to share your favourites!