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Facebook's Privacy Scholars

kelli korducki

In an age when CNN can get away with quoting Twitter as “a source” in its coverage of Iran’s high-stakes political bedlam, it’s more than fair to assume that as a society, we’re still ironing out the kinks in our relationship with interactive media. For some of us that might mean, say, late-night microblogging about our favourite YouTube videos to watch when we can’t fall asleep. For many more of us—around 200 million active members and counting–that means narcissistic self-documentation on Facebook.

And narcissistic it is. A recent CBC documentary addresses those of us born after 1970 (myself very much included) by the not-so-subtle moniker “Generation Me.” The children of the Baby Boomers (more passively, “The Me Generation”), we’ve grown up being told just how special we are from the moment our heads crown from the birth canal. Our notion of self is defined not only by entitlement, but by an immense sense of self-importance brought upon by years of parental conditioning. We each fancy ourselves to be not only unique and special snowflakes, but the best possible unique and special snowflakes, and, while we may not have invented the quarter-life crisis, we have certainly perfected it.

While Facebook’s demographics are rapidly bridging generational boundaries, most of its users still fall within the 18-34 year-old range—Generation Me at full throttle.  As both shameless exhibitionists and hopeless voyeurs (again, myself included), we relish in celebrity culture while simultaneously craving a slice of the fame for ourselves. Which is why, studies suggest, we are completely careless about the kind of personal information we are willing to disclose on our Facebook profiles.

image courtesy ColllegeCandy

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“Youth are sharing a great deal of information on social networking sites such as Facebook and may not fully realize the consequences of this disclosure,” says Amy Muise, one of two University of Guelph Psychology PhD students recently awarded nearly $50,000 in government research funding. The research in question? Why, disclosure of personal information on Facebook, of course.

The grant, awarded by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to Muise and fellow graduate student Emily Christofides, amounts to nearly the maximum allotted amount for the office’s Contributions Program, which is considered among the top privacy research funding programs in the world.

A June 9 University of Guelph press release quotes privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart: “I’m proud that our office is able to help encourage relevant and cutting-edge research. I am also glad that we can work with established organizations to spread knowledge about the importance of privacy.”

Whether or not this research is enough to knock some sense into our self-obsessed noggins is anyone’s guess, but this is at least a step in the  right direction toward figuring out how to create boundaries between our lives and the meta-existences we forge online.

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