Skip links

We all have to learn to be Public

By Marianne Steen & Pernille Tranberg

Blog. The discussion about the dissemination and sharing of nude photos of children and adults have a good explanation. The vast majority of people have no idea what it means to be a public person. Most of us have in the past decade accepted that it is perfectly okay to be public-by-default, when we use our cell phones and go on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media. We must actively opt out if we don’t want to be public and have all our data harvested and shared with third parties. Often it is impossible or very difficult, and there are stille only few alternative products and services that offer privacy-by-default.

We have sent ourselves and our children out on social media without understanding let alone discuss what it means for us as humans to suddenly be public. We have focused on all the many  positives about social media and apps such as giving everybody a voice, but we forgot to discuss what it also means; humans have become transparent, and thus we have to learn to handle that.

We must manage our digital identities and understand what we want is public and what we want is private.

We see children, youth and adults share their innermost thoughts in public diaries – which before the Internet had a physical lock on, so not even the nearest ones had access. We see people show sides of themselves that we dont really want to gain insight into. We have seen a young girl expose her suicide farewell to her family as a Youtube video. We have not understood or considered that when we exhibit so many private aspects of ourselves, we become incredibly vulnerable. This individual public-by-default could have some undesirable consequences:

  • We slowly destroys our self-esteem. Studies in the UK show that social media especially affect young girls’ self-esteem
  • More and more of us will go in the same direction, because it is difficult and hard to go the opposite direction that the crowd. A study shows that government mass surveillance programs like those exposed by Edward Snowden make us significantly less likely to read about surveillance and other national security-related topics online, as we know we are being watched
  • Some of us will be excluded and discriminated against because we are transparent

All this is about the right to our privacy. Something that many people have thought as an individual problem; I have nothing to hide. But that basically is a societal problem, and when tech giants in say that privacy is belonging to the past, it’s because the tech giants earn big money from the personal data.

Once, journalists operated with two kind of sources; the professional ones which could cite for what they said, and the unprofessional ones that needed to be protected and told; maybe you should not say this as you risk being fired. The journalistic gatekeeper role is long since dead. Today, everybody is their own journalist, as soon as you get an Instagram profile. Therefore we all need to learn to take care of our digital identity.

It is always difficult to act when the damage is done, but of course there are things you can do to limit the damage. But best of all is to work with your digital identity in a preventive way. You need to decide what you want to keep for yourself and what you want to be visible. There are plenty of tools to protect what is private. At the same time tools to use to promote the professional you, so when someone is searching your name they find the ‘cv’ you want them to find. Today, it is much worse to be displayed on Google than it is to be on display at the front of a tabloid. The tabloid has fewer readers and the story is not so visible. On Google it is your everlasting digital footprint.