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The recent attempts by authority figures at curtailing individuals’ Facebook activity are disturbing.  Two recent examples of such action include attempts by employers to obtain new and prospective employees’ facebook passwords and the order by officials at a Crown Heights, Brooklyn high school that students must cancel their Facebook accounts or suffer expulsion from school (in addition to a $100 fine). 

It is a new, more open world in which technology allows activity that hasn’t been regulated.  Those who wish to control such activity by members of their groups are playing catch up, trying to exert control over people in a changing world.  The advent of Facebook creates a plane in which people can express themselves outside of the controlled environments of school or work.  On Facebook, the person is free to be himself or herself without the enforced constraints of these environments, and transcend the identifiers of “student” or “employee”.

Every day, I hear cries of “tyranny” used by people against the power of the federal government, and dismiss them as hyperbole.  In the cases of cyber infringement (more of which I’m sure are to come), a smaller private body is trying to get its overarching tentacles into the personal affairs of citizens in the same way that some allege that the federal government tries to control aspects of their lives.  I do not consider myself a Libertarian, but something must be said for personal freedom.  Let’s be clear: these individuals are not being targeted for engaging in illegal or otherwise criminal behavior.  No such invasion of their privacy or usurpation of their autonomy is necessary.  Was warrantless wiretapping ok in order to listen in on people’s conversations?  Many people thought it was not, and the reason given for such intrusive action was national security.  Though “national security” was an ill-fitting, catch all phrase, at least it hinted at the possibility of a real reason.  Nothing approaching this scale even comes close to the reasons behind destroying a large part of someone’s autonomy.  Again, not hyperbole. 

 With the number of Facebook profiles approaching the 1 billion mark, Facebook is no mere fluke or fringe movement.  It is a worldwide, easily accessible network, which makes it a threat.  It is also an extension of ourselves.  When the rabbis in charge of the Crown Heights school claim that the world created by the website is “not real”, they display a gross misunderstanding of the technology.  Interactions occur through Facebook, but profiles also serve as a conduit for a wide-ranging manner of personal information.  It is no wonder each page is called a “profile”.  From photo albums which chronicle important life events to the digital recognition of personal milestones to spaces in which everything from niche interests to news stories can be disseminated and connections can be built, Facebook is like the Room of Requirement for any person wishing to use it.  Yes, that was a Harry Potter reference.  The next thing you know, those frightened, ignorant adults will be trying to ban that book series too.  Oh, wait, that’s already happened.  Thanks, overzealous Christians who think that the wizards and sorcery in children’s books are the “devil’s work”. 

Digressions aside, we live in the 21st century.  Such technology cannot and should not be held back because it presents uncertainty for a ruling class in any situation.  Employers claim fear of liability if they don’t properly vet employees.  Fine, perform background checks.  Asking for a Facebook password oversteps any reasonable person’s bounds.  Social networking is very new.  The Internet is not much older.  It is easy to forge these facts because they have become such an integral part of our lives.  Because the youth have grown up in the cyber age, we have taken for granted the wonders of the Internet, particularly the freedom and the new degree of interconnectedness it allows us to have.  This is all the more reason we should be aware of attempts to chip away aspects of this from us.  Anything that upends the status quo is viewed warily by those in positions of power.  Facebook is the latest battleground.  We must protect our liberty, or someone more powerful will always try to take it away.

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