There is a hashtag trending on Twitter right now that thrills me to my core. If you have a twitter account (and if you do you should be following @unabridge) see all the folks who stand with Edward Snowden. Seriously – check #istandwithedwardsnowden. It’s a beautiful thing.
I don’t know Edward Snowden. I don’t know if Mr. Snowden is worth standing with. He might be a total d-bag who kicks puppies or takes advantage of drunk women who clearly have self-esteem issues. But all too often what is trending on Twitter has something to do with celebrity gossip or hating teachers or something so senseless I can’t really make heads or tails of it. In those cases the trends are very often complaining about something. This trend is something completely different, and it matters not because I think Mr. Snowden is the most amazing human being ever, but because the fact that it is trending gives me a little hope for the twitterverse, and a little pride in my fellow cyberAmericans. Instead of complaining, folks were championing something, and not just a television character – an actual honest-to-Bill-of-Rights cause.
If you don’t know who Edward Snowden is, let me enlighten you – Mr. Snowden is the NSA whistle-blower. Now, as regular readers of this little blag-o-blog you have known for quite some time that the NSA is stealing your info and putting it in a big pile to be sorted later. Or now. Whatever they feel like. For people who like their info a little more mainstream, this is news. As tempting as it is, we cannot judge them for their shock. In fact, the shock and awe is sort of sweet. There is still that much trust in the powers that be that when presented with the proof that the government is untrustworthy, we, as a nation, can still be disappointed. This is a little what Watergate felt like, I guess.
There are some who are trying to make Snowden out to be a villain. And by “those” I largely mean some in politics. For the most part, nobody is buying it. A lot of conservatives are howling about liberals rushing to condemn Snowden, but really, most folks outside of the government are either completely disgusted or are simply keeping mum. I can’t find these supposed liberals rushing to Obama’s defense except for the liberals who are employed by Obama. And we’ve all known that they aren’t really liberals for quite some time. For real: Nobody is happy about this. And the twitterverse is letting us know by announcing that they support Snowden. Snowden, you see, has fled the country. He copied the documents he wanted to leak, packed his bags, and left for Hong Kong. That is how explosive this is. The man decided enough was enough – he would not be complicit in the kind of invasion of privacy he knew was going on, and made a plan to make it public.
And so, #istandwithedwardsnowden.
So, as I say – I have no idea if this guy is a quality guy or not, but what I DO know is that there are enough people on twitter who still value their privacy that #istandwithedwardsnowden is a thing. I like the symbolism of it all. You see, the general wisdom is that millennials don’t care too much about privacy. The same general wisdom would have us believe that these same millennials are the ones using Twitter. Here’s the thinking: the fact that they’ve never really had any privacy due to growing up in a socially networked and hypermediated world fueled by reality TV and infotainment has dulled the desire to keep one’s self to oneself. And, anecdotally, you can see this just by getting on facebook – the older the person the more likely they are to have more stringent privacy settings. Younger folks just don’t seem to give a crap – and I don’t mean this in a “get off my lawn” kind of way, I mean this in a cultural/sociological observation kind of way. The idea that you might want to keep certain things to yourself is a little mystifying to all too many of my students. Example: those of my students who have found me on Twitter and follow me often find themselves in the dubious position of being followed in return. This is all well and good, but they often forget that if they are going to allow their social networks to be that open, then I know everything they post – so if they talk about what exams they cheat on, when they get arrested, or just how much they hate particular profs, I know all about it. They don’t seem to understand that there may be a need for boundaries – until I call them out. And the solutions are rather simple – don’t share or don’t connect with people who shouldn’t know the things you want to share.
And this brings me back to #istandwithedwardsnowden. Because, you see, there may be some things a person doesn’t want to share.
Privacy is not just for the paranoid. Privacy is a matter of ownership. Privacy is owning your own thoughts, your own self, your own communication – privacy is owning your own identity. Note that “own” as in “yourself” and “own” as in “to possess” are the same word. That’s not coincidence that we use the same word for those two things. When you give up privacy you are giving up control. You give up control of what you say, how you said it, the context of what you said, and even the thoughts that comprised what you said. When you give up privacy you are giving up a certain amount of what comprises the thing that makes you YOU. Privacy is the when and how you exercise control over your thoughts and how those will be presented to the world. And your own thoughts, friends, are the things that define you. You give up on privacy and you are giving up on those things that define you by default.
And the people who say “I’m not worried because I have nothing to hide” are both stupid and dangerous. On the one hand, they do not understand how proof and argument work and therefore should not make arguments or present proof. Ever. Seriously, if something ever says that stop listening to them because they have never in their lives been able to assess more than one thought at a time and known whether they could be synthesized in a cohesive manner. Here is how that argument pans out:
Oh, so they are watching all of us? Well, at least they are treating us all the same.
P1: Only guilty people should be worried.
P2: I am not guilty.
C: I should not be worried.
So, the thinking here is that EVERYBODY will be treated as a criminal and then those that are found to be actual criminals will be prosecuted. This reverses the justice system as it is practiced in these good ol’ US of A. Supposedly, we are innocent until proven guilty. In this scenario we are guilty until proven innocent. There is one very serious problem with this, however.
You cannot prove innocence.
Think about it. Think real hard. How can you ever PROVE that you DIDN’T do something? The closest you can come is to prove that somebody ELSE did, and even then you aren’t actually proving that you were not involved, you are just proving that you did not do the most immediate act. Savvy? This is crucial to understand. This is why in a court of law the job of the prosecution is to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a person committed a crime and it is the job of the defense to simply cast doubt. Because doubt is all there is. But in a scenario when we are treating EVERYBODY like a criminal and guilt is the starting point, where does one insert doubt? How much more difficult is it to establish doubt if one begins from the assumption that there is guilt? So if you have done nothing wrong you should be MORE outraged, not less. Because the assumption that you should be treated like a criminal from the get go should make you made if you have done nothing wrong. Dumbass.
To make such an argument is dangerous because it puts all of us at risk. That kind of complacency, that willingness to turn over your liberty out of laziness and inability to understand what is at stake takes the privacy of the rest of us away, too.
GAH. I’m really not sure how this isn’t self-evident, to be perfectly honest.
The good news is that it is self-evident enough that #istandwithedwardsnowden was trending on twitter today. And that is something. It may not be a social movement to restore the First and Fourth Amendments, but it tells me that there are people out there who still care about whether we own our words and ideas or not. Some days I come home from work and I’m not sure that there are. So this made me a bit more comfy. It made me feel a bit safer.
You can go back to #songsthatnevergetold, now.