The second of my guest posts for #BeMyGuest this month comes from Kerry Gaffney, head of the digital team at PR behemoth Porter Novelli. The online privacy debate is one that is set to run and run, but here Kerry presents a unique and rather different take on the issue.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Ode on a Grecian Urn, John Keats
In a recent column, Times commentator, David Aaronovitch suggested that online truth is more valuable than privacy. His initial point is that privacy is a culturally constructed concept, not an innate human need. Later in the article he discussed his horror that some people are deliberately placing false information on the internet in a bid to protect their own identities or reputations. He concludes that while a ‘lack of privacy may be uncomfortable, a lack of truth is fatal’.
By coincidence I was looking in detail at Wikipedia’s various guidelines and for the first time became aware that to the global purveyor of knowledge, verifiability, not truth is the marker for inclusion. It does not matter how true something might be, if you can’t substantiate it with reliable sources then to Wikipedia it might as well not exist. So which is more important? Our privacy, the truth or veracity? And why is it not possible to have all three?
I’d argue against that Aaronvitch’s belief that privacy is culturally constructed concept. I believe that the acceptable boundaries are culturally created but that it is an innate human need, a hangover from the days in the cave. That younger generations currently seem to care not a jot for privacy, currently. Potentially this view may be a reflection of our celebrity focused societies. Celebrities are viewed as being the most successful members of our community, one of the perceived markers of being a celebrity is to relinquish control of privacy. With sites such as Facebook, and the prevalence of camera phones, everyone can now also relinquish their privacy too and enjoy a tiny slither of the celebrity lifestyle.
However, just as there are A-list celebs that manage to avoid the limelight, should not the individual user be able to chose what level of privacy they feel comfortable with, and not let the decision rest with Google or Facebook?
This brings us to veracity and truth. Wikipedia has been much criticised for seeming accepting consensus over credibility and so the emphasis has switched to making sure the information is verifiable, which is not necessarily the same thing as being the truth. Should we be concerned about this? Only, I suppose if it is possible for lies to be verified, which they can, and then what happens to valuing the truth?
Are truth, privacy and veracity mutually exclusive and if they are, then which should we strive for in our online dealings?
Kerry Gaffney heads up the digital team at Porter Novelli. Passionate about all things digital and the drivers behind mass adoption of social media, she’s been bumbling about the internet since the mid-nineties when she was involved with fledgling online communities – think Facebook but in ASCII.
She can be found on Twitter as @KerryMG or visit her blog at http://niffnaffntriv.com
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