Jan 072011
 

As usual there was a righteous hubbub when the terms of service changed. And as usual both the analysts and those who routinely trivialized their concerns went right on using their accounts. In truth both believed that the expression of outrage was a mix of self-satisfied geek intellectualism and effective boundary patrol by “the user community”.  This time they were wrong. Maybe they’d been wrong every time. We’ll never know.

The wall posts were carefully composed, factual not slanderous. But always devastating. Expired permits, illicit substance arrests, drunk driving, tax fraud, sexual assault, child support and alimony arrears, traffic violation and crash records. No one had anything to hide on Facebook, except the things that are easy to hide, the things that are only between you and the government, who politely sends you letters in the mail. But it is these things which puncture the illusions at the troubled nexus of law and morality.

In the States, the shock and shame caused 27,089 suicides in the first 24 hours, after which news media were forbidden to report them. The mortal impact in Western Europe was significantly less per capita, the myths of benign government and moral laws having a less firm grip there. Eastern Europe witnessed sporadic local violence as people long hungry for facts seized them in surging resentment.

A few cynical new user groups promptly appeared, “NOTHING (No One THought I was Never a Gangster) to Hide” and “Proud to be Honest” but overall postings dropped 95%. The 25% of users who promptly tried to close their accounts learned that they were no longer authorized to do so, as maintaining an account was now a duty of citizenship. However a new feature now automated friendship networks through cellphone and email records, so we would no longer need to tediously initiate or approve friendships.

There were two kinds of people now, those with their shame exposed to all, and those terrified of their first misstep. Some tried to “explain” to their friends, but the cleavage was deep, and everyone was too preoccupied following the threads, the consequences. They sat before their computers listlessly scanning their hundreds or thousands of “friends”, cringing as they imagined receptions of their particularities. There was a silence, isolation, depression. Superficial status updates seemed pathetic now.

Everyone waited. Then phones started ringing. “…We’re sure you understand that we can’t employ someone in your position who has this record.” Professionals were hit hardest by their carefully lawyered pasts catching up with them. But everyone was affected as insurance and credit card companies found excuses to dramatically decrease their exposure.

The government is everyone’s friend.