'Oh my f*cking christ'. It was a call that reverberated around the office as we 20 somethings flocked back to our computers in what none-too-shrewd an observer would term 'a panic'. Indeed, I think for at least a second my heart may have been coming out of my ears. But that may well just be me dramatising in retrospect...
Bottom line: I was not happy.
You know how Google and Facebook and 'the internet' are hoarding all of our lovely personal data and giving it to terrorists and stuff? Yeah? Well If I gave you a penny for every time a f*ck was given by me about that old debate you'd be going hungry I'm afraid. But now? Now all of my precious private conversations had been leaked? Well I was livid. How could you do this to me Facebook? After all I've done for you. I've given you my whereabouts at any given time, my social life, my time, my addition to an easily targeted and marketable demographic. What do you give me? This!? I was ready to end things between us. It's not me it's you. Fin.
But alas we'd all got our knickers in a twist about nothing. Facebook hadn't really leaked our private messages. Apparently it was just a rumour based around some confusion with the timeline and how it displayed our public interactions. Then this had been reported, people had seen the headline (sorry about that) and a great big vicious circle was now eating into Facebook's share price. Great for us though, disaster averted, life back to normal, why isn't Dave online so I can bitch about Suzy again?
Not matter what our Facebook profile may say there is no 'us'. Especially online. We have not one identity but several. On Twitter we may be an aspiring 'writer' with a slightly crotchety, belligerent
outlook on life. On Youtube a politically driven loudmouth prone to squabbling with fundamentalist Christians. Not convinced? Use a website anonymously and see how you change. Watch how on 4chan 'nice' people can do horrible things once they become their anonymous selves. It's all a matter of accountability.
On Facebook the more sensible amongst us project ourselves as best we can. Using choice snippets of comedy here or there to make ourselves look spontaneously witty or sharing only our most kitsch or socially astute of interests to make ourselves look interesting. Such a groomed and socially conscious manifestation of our personality can lead to a sort of social schizophrenia. This apparent dichotomy of good and bad 'us' is exposed not for everyone but for Facebook - to see. What I mean to say is that in private chat, depending on who we are talking to, we let it all hang out. This is because we are of course not airing our dirty laundry out for all to see, just for our best mate, or boyfriend or girlfriend. So that's fine then. Well not really because Facebook is there as well, it's pressing it's innocuous little ear up against the door and it's got the room wired.
The online privacy debate has never had much sex appeal for the youth market but now, in one fell swoop it's been made (albeit theoretically) relevant. Sure, let people know where you live, what you do, where you are, but DO NOT let them see what you said in the confines of private chat. Forget your personal details, in Facebook's highly considerable data banks is stored not only you, social you, public you, but private you. Your secrets, your lies, your shame and quite frankly, your bitching.
Now I realise that not everyone reading this will be a 'bitch' but I'm willing to bet that the majority (if they're honest with themselves - come on, be honest) are. This is of course not some
terrible thing. Sometimes you just need to let off some steam about someone. With that emission out of the way you get on with your life. Maybe you are having a 'private' chat with a significant other or someone you'd like to be your significant other or even worse, someone you'd like to be your significant other. And d'you know what? No one ever needs to know. No one needs to know but Facebook does.
Do you know who else knows that Facebook does? Hackers. Now I'm going to try and not be naïve here. 'Hackers' aren't just going to 'hack' their way into Facebook's surely impressively secure and dense network, but it's a possibility. Forget terrorism. Want to bring western society to it's knees? Publish it's private conversations.
There may not be an Orwellian thought police watching and recording your innermost thoughts, but Facebook have them on file. Want to be the next prime minster? Well watch out because chances are you're not only living your social life in public, but you're airing your dirty laundry on record as well.
The whole 'personal information' argument has had little sway amongst a generation that has grown up in the information spotlight. But infringe their right to privately bitch, sext, or conspire and pretty soon you'll find the youth of today going pretty public.
Follow Ross Jones-Morris on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rossjonesmorris