News Of The Tweet: Liberty and Lawbreaking

Criminal tweets, narcissism, and Web 3.0


By Seb Kemp

This week I’ve been reading a book.

GASP.

Yup, a hardback publication that I borrowed from the library.

THE WHAT?

The library. It’s a living record of many things that were once said and which will one day, sadly, become a bargain basement resource for fire fuel. Anyway, this particular book is Andrew Keen’s “Digital Vertigo,” a call to arms to realize that “Web 3.0” – the transformation from the web as data centre to immersive social networks – is “jeopardizing those precious rights to individual privacy, secrecy and, yes, the liberty that individuals have won over the last millenium.”

His thesis is that in the world of Web 3.0 – Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn – the internet becomes a platform for massive amounts of data, personal data which is creating a creeping tyranny of an ever-increasingly transparent social network that threatens to forever erase our privacy. However, it’s not the shadow of Big Brother, a sinister force or omnipotent totalitarian power, that is creating this urgent loss of liberty but rather our “network society has become a transparent love-in, an orgy of oversharing, an endless digital Summer of Love.”

These days we share everything with our social, sharing networks. We publicly confess our travel itineraries, what we eat, who we know, who we date, our whereabouts, our thoughts. We put up photos of everything we see, do, who we see these things with and where we were when we saw them. We leave lists of who we know and how we know them. We reveal our most private thoughts on a transparent network that anyone and everyone can access.

We do this not because we have to, but because we want to. We have reached a rather sudden change in the behavior of mankind from a social yet private creature to one of pure public behavior, where the presentation of our lives has become our entertainment and recreation.

Keen writes, “This contemporary mania with our own self-expression is what two leading American psychologists, Dr. Jean Twenge and Dr. Keith Campbell, have described as the “narcissism epidemic” – a self-promotional madness driven, these two psychologists say, by our need to continually manufacture our own fame to the world.”

Now the fortune of an online world of infinite self-promotion and shallow web relationships is valued far higher than that of our privacy. The web is a “wall of flattering mirrors” where we like the mirror and the mirror likes us. The gadgets we covet – the tablet, the smartphone, the laptop, etc. – and the digital realities they support conform to our fantasy of being “liked” and to reflect well on us.

The cost of all this is that privacy is taking a back seat to the notion that our every thought, act or desire should be publicized. University of Southern California’s social media research scientist Dr. Julie Albright is quoted by Keen as saying, “Our social lives are becoming more transparent and public, and a lot of people don’t consider the fact that once it’s out there, it’s out there.”

Bike Magazine and myself have both recently seen, firsthand, how the threat of one citizen’s potential sins and crimes was broadcast on-line, leaving a not so virtual confession.

But we won’t name names here, instead, here is the story of another social network- active but socially-maladjusted, young lady.

Emma Way, a 21-year-old trainee accountant from Norfolk, UK, struck a cyclist while driving on a narrow road and drove off. A short while later she bragged about the hit and run when she tweeted, “Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier. I have right of way – he doesn’t even pay road tax!”

The comment included the hashtag #Bloodycyclists.

This was gleaned from Google images as the original was deleted at the time, so this can not be verified as authentic but certainly an accurate representation of Emma Way's tweet.

The tweet went “viral” with hundreds of retweets which also attracted the attention of the local police department who tracked Miss Way down and are investigating the manner. Meanwhile, Miss Way has publicly apologized and refuted the version of events that the cyclist, 29-year-old Toby Hockley who was partaking in the Boudicca Sportive 100-mile ride at the time. Miss Way has also tried to say that she isn’t against cyclists, doesn’t think cyclists are second rate citizens, and even thinks the tweet has been taken out of context.

“The tweet and the incident are completely different, it doesn’t relate to the accident,” she said. In the video in the link a tearful Miss Way described the public as “judging me on one man’s side of the story.”

That tweet, however, is out there. It has been deleted now but it still exists in the servers and mainframe, forever inscribed into the history of this young lady. The twinkling attraction of the glowing screen fooled her into the need to self-promote and share her life with the world. It blinded her, but Miss Way’s actions and what she regards as a blasé, off the cuff remark to her “followers” went a lot further than she thought they would.

In a digital world that dupes us to reveal everything about ourselves one minute, can we really demand privacy the next? It seems that far too many people are not looking beyond the looking glass at the consequence of their own actions.

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