Spring 2010 English 099 Long Reading
[THE NATlON/ January 7-14, 2008]
Ari Melber earned a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Michigan in
Ann Arbor and also studied at the University of Chile in Santiago. In addition to his work as a
legislative aide in the U.S. Senate and serving as a national staff member of the 2004 John
Kerry presidential campaign, Melber is a regular correspondent for the Nation Online and the
Huffington Post and a contributing editor at the Personal Democracy Forum. His writing has
been featured in the Baltimore Sun, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Forward, the Times
Union, and the American Prospect Online. Melber writes that his topics often include "politics,
social networking/social media, internet activism and anything else happening online. "
When one of America's largest electronic surveillance systems was launched in Palo Alto
a year ago, it sparked an immediate national uproar. The new system tracked roughly 9 million
Americans, broadcasting their photographs and personal information on the Internet; 700,000
web-savvy young people organized online protests in just days.
declared it "Gen Y's first
official revolution," while a
blogger lauded students for taking privacy activism to "a
mass scale." Yet today, the activism has waned, and the surveillance continue largely unabated.
Generation Y's "revolution" failed partly because young people were getting what they
signed up for. All the protesters were members of Facebook, a popular social networking site,
which had designed a sweeping "news feed" program to disseminate personal information that
users post on their web profiles. Suddenly everything people posted, from photos to their
relationship status, was sent to hundreds of other users in a feed of time-stamped updates.
People complained that the new system violated their privacy. Facebook argued that it was
merely distributing information users had already revealed. The battle-and Facebook's growing
market dominance in the past year--show how social networking sites are rupturing the
traditional conception of privacy and priming a new generation for complacency in a
surveillance society. Users can complain, but the information keeps flowing.
Facebook users did not recognize how vulnerable their information was within
the site's architecture. The initial protests drew an impressive 8 percent of users, but they quickly
subsided after Facebook provided more privacy options. Today the feed is the site's nerve center.
Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer, said that when he speaks on campuses these
students approach him to say that while they initially "hated" the feed, now they "can't
Still, Facebook hit a similar privacy snag in November after it launched Beacon, a
"social advertising" program that broadcast users' profile pictures and private activities as
advertising bulletins. When a Facebook user bought a product on one of dozens of other Web