Simone Garcia is a high school student at The Country Day School in King City, Ontario, Canada, who is writing for the IPilogue on intellectual property (IP) law, technology and, in this case, social media. This is the first in IPilogue’s series showcasing a high school student’s perspective on IP and technology issues.
Recently, Vanity Fair published an article entitled, “Poke to the Future”, whose contents described one of the largest and most influential social phenomena of the 21st century. You’ve probably heard of it. If not, you probably live under a rock. What Vanity Fair succinctly described in under one thousand words was the unique trend that is today taking millions by storm: Facebook.
This phenomenon is so hugely popular, that when compared to other technologies of its kind, the effects of it are mind-blowing. Consider the following: It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million users. In 13 years, television attracted the same number. Compared to the relatively fast pace of the Internet, which took 4 years to attract a million users, the social networking website we all know as Facebook gained over 200 million users in the short space of one year.
Social media and social networking websites are the most prevalent kinds of interaction that exist between individuals in society today. With over 500 million users, Facebook has overpowered both MySpace and LinkedIn, in addition to countless other social-networking websites, to become one of the most dominant forces on the web today. Did Mark Zuckerberg know what he was doing back in 2004 in his college dorm room? Could he have predicted the speed with which Facebook (and other social media websites like it) would take over our modern day society?
Scientists discovered long ago that those between the ages of 12 and 21 have a still-developing area of the brain entitled the prefrontal cortex. This area controls future planning, and is the decision-making centre of the cranium in healthy adults. Notice the word adults. Throughout adolescence and young adulthood, on the other hand, this area is being remodelled and reshaped, causing a severe impediment to a young person’s ability to make decisions while fully considering their consequences. That being said, could a young Zuckerberg have predicted the effects that Facebook and sites like it could have had and are having on society today? It is obvious that social media has sparked a fire of both positive and negative consequences, ranging from privacy issues to the maze of patent laws and user rights agreements that surround these sites. It is how society deals with these concerns that will ultimately determine the long-term success of this phenomenon.
One of the most controversial of the aforementioned issues is evident in the area of user privacy and the impact that social networking sites have over this most fundamental freedom. In her book, Cyberspace, Gwenn Schurgin O’Keefe made the comment, “Large Web sites back up their databases. What we put on cyberspace never truly goes away. We have to consider it permanent because there is likely a copy somewhere; to think otherwise is foolish.”
For many users, understanding their own rights, and the impact that social networking websites have over their personal information, is an uphill struggle. The Internet is a tool written in ink, not pencil. What one chooses to share on a social media website, whether that is a preferred musical band, hobby, or political standing, never truly goes away. It is this issue that has many feeling more and more uncomfortable navigating the ins and outs of social networking sites. Have you ever tried to delete your Facebook profile? Not easy. Deactivating, on the other hand, is a breeze.
The two-fold issue of intellectual property laws and the rights of users to ‘own’ their information, photos, music, and other unique accoutrements that might accompany their social networking system lies hand in hand with the issue of privacy. For many users of websites like the ever popular Tumblr, or Flickr, nothing is more annoying, or illegal, than having a hard earned photo or song (their own work) ‘stolen’ and put on another person’s blog without their consent.
“Today’s youth are living in a world in which everything can be accessed quickly, cheaply – for free if possible – and without regard to another person’s work, time, or effort,” said Kerstin Wyndham-West, a media teacher at the Country Day School in King City, Ontario. In our society today, especially among youth, there is little regard for intellectual property laws and for respecting the work of another person. The Internet has fuelled the idea that no one really owns anything, and therefore posting the work of another, in effect stealing someone else’s product, has become meaningless. This is where the issue of privacy comes in. In order to protect their own work, users of social networking websites need to have a means by which to protect and shield their product from the prying computer mice of someone else on the Internet. Sadly, this is not an issue which has been settled, nor will it be settled anytime soon.
In the meantime, sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Flickr, are continuing to grow. These sites are indeed useful. They connect millions of people from all around the world and from all walks of life. But, like anything good, there are negative side effects, ones that may not always be evident at first. While navigating these sites, whether you are young or old, the only true key is knowledge of the facts and risks associated with being connected in the 21st century.