September 20, 2010

To Post or Not to Post

Did you update your Facebook page today? If so, Ira Wagman might be interested.

But it’s not because he’s keen to be your friend, or needs an addition to his online farm. The assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communication is fascinated by new media and the rules of engagement for its use. His goal is to help place the emerging landscape of social media within the historical context of communication.

That’s why the current hot button issue surrounding Facebook and privacy is the perfect debate for this scholar. According to Wagman, concerns about publicizing personal information aren’t new or unique to the digital age.

“There seems to be sensitivity right now about what we make public,” explains Wagman. “We need to remember that the anxiety has always existed, whether it was worry over sending an inappropriate e-mail to the wrong person, leaving something confidential on a photocopier, or taking your roll of film with risqué pictures to be developed at the drug store.”

Wagman says that the tension that exists between the perception of public information available in the age of the Internet and the reality needs exploration. Historically, a lot of public data was available through mediums like phone books or business directories. Those vehicles have since migrated online, making the information faster and easier to find. That ease of accessibility frightens some, but is the concern valid?

“If you think about someone searching out the price you paid for your house online versus spending hours searching through records, the offline version suddenly seems creepier,” Wagman says.

With new technologies emerging all the time, Wagman hopes his work will inform future policies governing their use by questioning the claims and concerns of both advocates and opponents.

“My job is to question everything, put all the claims into context, and to position both the anxiety and enthusiasm into a more subtle place,” he says.

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