Self-censorship on facebook: The tragic loss of truth on the web

“There was an estimate last month that Facebook has something like 130 million unique visits every day. It now acts as a vast market place for ideas, preferences, suggestions and actings-out, extending far beyond the capacity of conventional institutions to influence.”

-David Aaronovitch


I used to live in Berlin. It was a glorious period during which I wallowed in wonderful hedonism. My life in Berlin meant maximizing my net pleasure together with a group of people with which I worked for “Zitty”, a magazine for the night. We lived together in a “WG” (wohngemeinschaft=sort of a living community) in Prenzlauer Berg. 27 people, 13 nationalities, and 1 kitchen. Just imagine the beautiful chaos.

I had especially developed a mutually reinforcing relationship with some guys from Boston, who were studying German in Berlin. I showed them how we spend the night in Europe -which they seemed to appreciate, and in return they introduced me to strange drinking games featuring ping-pong balls and something called a beerbong, but most importantly, they introduced me to facebook. Hundreds of pictures I have from these guys, pokernights that got out of hand, Thursdays at club Weekend, that one night Mike peed in a beer bottle and accidently drank it, the time Cody passed out face-down on the floor, that drunken boxing match in the middle of the night. The list is endless.

After I moved back to the Netherlands I wanted to relive those moments, and to my unpleasant surprise I found out I was -in fact, the only one who wanted to relive them. To make things worse, I started to get requests to stop tagging them in my pictures, or to even delete entire albums (Especially the album called “The gay bar” -the night everyone got naked-). When I refused, because I did not have the original pictures, they got really pissed off, telling me it was non of my business and I should “respect their privacy”. 

You see, my Boston friends had all finished their studies, and wanted to become bankers, stock brokers and government officials. And apparently, people in those lines of work never ever once step out of line. They never go to clubs or bars, they never get drunk, never even hold a beer in their hand. Their lives consist of continuus polite smiles and decently posed pictures with equally decent friends. If you have to believe their facebook profiles, family gatherings are their favorite pastime, together with some sports and cultural activities.

What has happened? What went wrong? We all cheer when Google decides to stop censoring in China, but we blatantly self-censor our very own lives until all that’s left is some hypocritical, politically correct version of it. A lie!

So I ask myself this question: Is privacy more important than the online truth about ourselves? And what do you know? There is an amazing article in the Times with exactly that phrase as a title! David Aaronovitch, columnist for the Times and award-winning writer has beaten me to the punch. You can find it here.

According to him, privacy is a cultural phenomena, and thus subject to cultural changes and influences. That makes the value of privacy fluent: “My view was that privacy was a culturally determined concept. Think of those open multiseated Roman latrines in Pompeii, and imagine having one installed at work.” More recently, I can think of other (cultural) influences on privacy. Take Saudi Arabia. It’s an entire society where certain aspects of privacy have become unnaturally important, or India, where en-mass pooping on the railroad is as normal as buying a pack of gum.

So it seems that the ease with which we can pretent online is going to mean the end of truth on the web. A truth that is, according to mr. Aaronovitch “essential to the value of the internet.” He continues: “Lack of privacy may be uncomfortable. Lack of truth is fatal.

Let’s hope that the cultural forces from facebook and other online networks as ‘insitutes’ change our concept of privacy before it’s too late, and we are stuck with facebook as a accumulation of fake lives and half-truths.

 Mr. Aaronovitch seems not to worry: “My children — Generation Y, rather than the Generation X-ers who make most of the current fuss about privacy — seem unworried by their mother’s capacity to track them and their social lives through Facebook. In fact, they seem unworried by anybody’s capacity to see what they’re up to — until, of course, it goes wrong. They seem to want to be in sight, and much effort goes into creating the public identity that they want others to see.”

I guess what I am trying to say is, post those embarrasing pictures online: that one drunken night, that nip-slip, that picture of you making out with a german midget, LET’S GET IT OUT THERE! Let’s change our culture!

Let me start:


4 Responses to “Self-censorship on facebook: The tragic loss of truth on the web”

  1. 1 Emmelie 25/04/2010 at 12:56 pm

    Hear hear!

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  3. 3 tb 05/06/2014 at 8:14 am

    you should start the article with:
    I started to get requests to stop tagging them in my pictures, or to even delete entire albums…
    Everything before this sounds superfluous.

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