AUGUST 28, 2008
(STAR) HANNEL SURFING By Althea Lauren Ricardo - I was doing my usual blog-hopping when I came across an impassioned entry of a blogger explaining why she is staying away from Plurk and more social networking sites. It opened up a very interesting discussion about personal information and privacy which I also gave my two centsí worth to, but more than her own very understandable reasons and the points of the many others who posted their comments, I found the article she linked to very compelling.

In Do Social Networks Bring the End of Privacy? Daniel Solove writes, ďSocial-networking sites allow seemingly trivial gossip to be distributed to a worldwide audience, sometimes making people the butt of rumors shared by millions of users across the Internet.Ē He writes about the kid more popularly known as ďStar Wars Kid,Ē a pudgy and awkward fourteen-year-old boy from Quebec who became an Internet phenomenon when his schoolmates found a video of him wielding a golf ball retriever like a lightsaber a la Darth Maul. Thinking it would be funny, they uploaded the video and shared it via Kazaa. Maybe they only intended it to be shared among friends, but the video became a huge hit. In fact, it went viral, eventually spawning a gazillion responses and remixes, making Star Wars Kid the butt of jokes and ridicule in cyberspace. Then, it crossed over to mass media, with the video appearing in South Park and The Family Guy, among many others.

I suppose you can understand why the Star Wars Kid suffered a mental breakdown and had to seek counseling. Lawsuits and settlements were made, but thereís still no telling if the poor kidís going to be okay.

While there are many people whoíve had their fifteen minutes of humiliation online for the whole world to feast on (think Miss South Carolina Caitlin Upton for Miss Teen USA 2007), and I admit to having indulged in the fun of it all, many other people are crossing the line, either unwittingly or knowingly.

Iím not new to the term cyberbullying. Iíve read of a South Korean television personality and another South Korean pop star who both committed suicide after suffering from intense cyberbullying. In China, an angry man posted information about his wifeís lover, leading to thousands of web postings denouncing the lover and revealing personal information about him. More recently, I dug up another case, also in South Korea (one of the most connected countries on the planet), which involves a young woman more popularly known as ďDog Poop Girl.Ē Back in 2005, Dog Poop Girl brought her lap dog on the subway and the dog pooped on the floor. The other passengers requested her to clean up the poop, and she declined.

One passenger gave her a tissue to clean it up, and Dog Poop Girl used it to clean her dog, but not the poop. She got off at the next stop, but before that, another passenger took a picture of her and her dog with a camera phone and posted it on a Korean website, triggering an angry reaction from netizens. In a matter of days, her identity was revealed, as were the identity of her parents and some relatives. Dog Poop Girl suffered humiliation, quit school, threatened to kill herself, and issued an apology that apparently calmed the whole thing down.

Still, thereís the whole matter of everything being stored online for anyone to just dig up. In some parts of cyberspace, sheís Dog Poop Girl forever.

Sure, the net is a wonderful and powerful tool for ordinary people like you and me who want to be heard. We donít need to be interviewed by big newspapers to have a global reach. We put information out there, and the people who care can find it easily. On a personal level, Iíve managed to reach long-lost friends and keep myself posted on their life developments. Iíve also managed to keep them updated about mine. These are the reasons why I like social networking sites.

Iím also very much aware about how easy it is to google everything these days, which is why Iím very, very careful not to post stuff I canít be held accountable for, or stuff I canít own up to. I use my complete name in all my accounts as a constant reminder of this.

I refrain from writing about intimate encounters (not that I have any to write about), serious skeletons in the closet, and complaints versus private individuals and institutions. Iím also trying very, very hard to refrain from writing cryptic posts about whatever emotional drama Iím going through. But thatís just me policing myself, and I donít expect other people to do the same.

Indeed, there is a line to be drawn in terms of your own and other peopleís privacy. Iím just not sure whoís supposed to draw it yet. So, in the meantime, just protect yourselves.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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