The Buzz

Why Edward Snowden's whistle doesn't pierce

Categories: Social Media

 A banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping U.S. surveillance programs, is displayed in Hong Kong's business district. Where are the North American protests in his defence? (Kin Cheung/Associated Press)

How celebrity culture is resetting our privacy boundaries

As NSA leaker Edward Snowden waits for countries to decide if he is a hero worth harbouring or a traitor worth trying, there is a curious quiet from the masses.

In another era, Snowden's revelation about secret government pacts with phone service providers to collect, store and potentially use your data could have led to revolt on the streets. Today, polls continue to show the majority of Americans simply don't care that the NSA is spying on them.

So what is it about our place and times that make us hit a collective snooze button?

No doubt, many factors. But one that is rarely discussed is our addiction to celebrity culture, and how it permeates reality TV, social media and the handy apps that detail the minutia of our lives.

 Edward Snowden is in limbo as countries around the world refuse him asylum. (Associated Press)

From The 'Real' Housewives of Beverly Hills to Jersey Shore, reality shows have proudly lowered our privacy bar. There is no laundry too dirty to air. From infidelity, to sibling fights to the omnipresent Snooki sharing that she urinated on herself — it's all out there.

Now maybe you wouldn't post a pee, but chances are the lax milieu in popular culture has reset your boundaries. Because if TV has made dishing a sport, social media has made it a team sport. We're all celebrities now and Facebook and Twitter are the main channels, with handles like @kellyoxford feeding half-a-million followers with tweets like this one about her lady parts.

We readily agree to share information

If that's not enough, then mobile apps take the voluntary invasion to another level. We actually click on the word "ACCEPT" when the maker asks for our permission to access our phone's GPS and in some cases, content. Niche apps like SnapChat encourage us to literally make our private parts public, if only for a few seconds.

Ultimately though, nothing screams 'I don't care about my privacy' like Foursquare, with a self-proclaimed 30 million subscribers voluntarily signed on for one sole purpose: to communicate the exact location of their body on the planet.

It's an exchange — of privacy for convenience — and for now, in North America, the fun and helpful benefits of using apps and social media seem to outweigh the negative consequences of giving out our information. So what if a marketer wants to target us? Some even feel grateful for the gesture; saving time spent sifting through ads for unappealing products. Those with more serious concerns may turn to privacy settings for comfort, yet breaches are all too common.

Taking freedom for granted

At this point, we've become so accustomed to our perceived freedom (to view and say and post anything we want), that we can't even imagine anyone abusing it, especially on a national scale. Edward Snowden pointed out to us that both governments and companies are quite prepared to abuse our trust.

In other countries, and in other times, people learned not to take their freedoms for granted.

The German Nazis put enormous effort into documenting ethnic background so they could isolate people they wanted to target. One shudders to think what they could have done with the searchable databases, locations and Facebook 'likes' we so readily supply today.

More recent examples include the blacklisting of protestors in Israel...

The arrest of tweeters in Turkey...

And the act of making people disappear altogether in China...

It's naive and even arrogant to think it can't happen to us. Yet while Snowden's whistle blowing may have raised eyebrows, it hasn't seemed to pierce many ears.

Now mine are now starting to burn. The Canadian in me relishes the 2.0 rush that comes with an exchange on Twitter and Pinterest. But I was born in the former communist country of Yugoslavia and I'm still not comfortable with personal pix on Facebook. We all have to draw the line somewhere, but let's do it consciously, despite the celebrity and media-driven pressure to divulge it all.

Where do you draw your line? What secrets will you keep?

Tags: Edward Snowden, internet, privacy, reality TV

Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.