In this video, Dr David Beer looks at the erosion of the private/public divide.
What are you doing and thinking right now? Would you share that information publicly on the internet?
In the video above, Dr David Beer talks about the concept of “confessional media”, an environment in which we are encouraged to share things about our private lives in public spaces. To be in these spaces and to interact with others, we must constantly evaluate which aspects of ourselves are made public. When you share your thoughts online, you have to think about what you’re thinking about, and edit those thoughts for the public sphere.
The way in which social media frames its fields for publishing posts about yourself shows this ‘confessional’ side. Facebook currently uses “What’s on your mind, [name]?” at the top of its News Feed
, encouraging you to share your thoughts with a personal invocation. In 2009, Twitter changed its prompt to users
from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?”. This subtle shift in wording widens the scope, moving away from your actions to also include thoughts and feelings that could be ‘happening’ right now. Both ask a question rather than use instructional text like ‘Write a post here’; it is interesting to reflect upon whether this affects what you end up posting to their sites. Are you more like to ‘confess’ private details when being asked a direct question?
Thanks in part to Facebook being in the news so much recently, people are increasingly aware about what is being shared on social media. This puts even more pressure on us to think about what information we are sharing with the internet and what should be kept private. Even with privacy controls, a data breach
could put very private information into the public domain. Sometimes sharing details that seem innocuous (such as a picture of your journey to work) could give people (with malicious intent or not) more information than you expected, if they can use this to work out your location, workplace, or daily habits. The invitation of confessional media to take part in sharing culture and to use details about your life as a commodity must be balanced with reflection on what we class as private.
It can be tempting to use this confessional media to unload our thoughts and feelings into a public space where others can offer advice, encouragement, and sympathy. This can have obvious positive outcomes, but it also offers a complex idea of privacy that requires us to make choices about just how confessional we are.