Booze, Budget Cuts, and Politics: A Facebook Tell-All
Every summer, the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) sponsors a networking bonanza where pols solidify contacts over drinks. With the budget disaster, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley promised a “sober” MACO outing. Surely, partying on the state’s dime would seem in poor taste given the state’s continued layoffs and furloughs. Well, that was the plan, at least in theory.
During the MACO conference, a gubernatorial staffer posted 115 party pics on Facebook, documenting the Governor, Mayor, county executives, and staffers having drinks during the event. It took little time for the pictures to leak: they now reside on the blog Maryland Politics Watch despite the staffer’s delection of the pictures from his Facebook page.
Why would the staffer post the party pics given the Governor’s admonition for a sober event and given the dour economic outlook in the state? Guest blogger James Grimmelmann‘s important “Saving Facebook” article, just published in the Iowa Law Review, explains why. Social network site users have a powerful sense of privacy. Facebook’s design produces the sense that users engage in private conversations. Users see their friends’ pictures and names when they send messages and post wall missives, pictures, and videos. They sense that users are “just like them” and thus would be unlikely to betray them. We also trust others because double nuclear annihilation lurks. If we publicize our friends’ pictures and videos beyond the Facebook walls, we can expect the same in turn. As Grimmelmann convincingly develops, social network site users cannot appreciate the real privacy risks of sharing on Facebook: we are cognitively limited in that way. Grimmelmann’s piece develops a strategy for addressing these issues and is a must read.