Leaving a Trace

Posted on January 9, 2012


As the world and relationships take to a global scale at the same time there is increasing clarity of origins of individual relationships. As discussed by Kadushin in “Basic Network Concepts”, we can analyze these global networks on a small scale to better understand their origins. When these connections between people, companies, and organizations are better understood, this information can be utilized for a powerful end. Kadushin proposed examples of how connections form, such as geographical location or common social attributes; for those of us who use social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for both professional and personal networking, the possibilities of connections seems to create a limitless web. Facebook can even help us to track how connections were made. For example, after you’ve attended an event, as confirmed on Facebook, and become friends with another person who also attended the event, your newsfeed will define your relationship: person ‘1’ became friends with person ‘2’ after attending ‘x’ event. This information can be useful, in a very practical sense, to political and other social organizers, marketers, and even law enforcement agents. As someone who is interested in the legal aspects of both social networking itself as well as management of such information, I have two major concerns: privacy and the freedom of information.

Privacy today isn’t as nearly as inclusive as it used to be: in fact, the federal government has said time and time again that information transmitted via popular social networking sites is not considered private, and will be used for investigative purposes if necessary. But it isn’t just law enforcement officials that people need to be concerned about: the tracking of information for marking purposes allows an invisible ‘hand’ to ‘feed’ you information that is specially catered to your online actions (i.e.: which ads you click on, what links you post, where you purchase products from, etc.). Shapiro in “Economics of Information Technology” discusses this marketing technique at length, however, I am also interested in how the manipulation of news media in this way has the power to frame a viewpoint without the explicit knowledge of the user. It can be argued that with the increasing amount of information, people continue towards polarization, with specialized sources of information shared by like-minded people. Following this logic Kadushin proposes, in citing reality television’s popularity, that the simulated and real have traded places. I feel that this interpretation is a bit out of date, though I understand the reasoning. I believe that the Internet’s freedom of information allows the possibility of exposing truth to more people through means such as by satellite images and YouTube videos. Though propaganda seems well suited for this sort of information minefield, I can’t help but feel that the increased freedom of information is leading closer to the truth because of the inability to hide it from the public view. I think of sites such as Wikileaks, the many cell phone recorded videos of government crackdowns on protesters throughout the world, and organizations such as the Satellite Sentinel Project where satellite images from Sudan are helping protect vulnerable persons from violence. The truth is impossible to deny when a person just like yourself, somewhere very far away or right next door, shares their story with the world. This shifting of power has and will continue to shape and reshape the socio-political landscape.  

Posted in: Readings