Privacy and Elections

[Outside the inferno of the hostile public sphere…]

“You cannot imagine to what a disease the itch of news is grown”

John Cooper, 1667.

The public face of this election has suddenly threatened to turn this day into one of the low points in my experience of British politics, rather than the high I had hoped for. Never did I imagine that so many friends and acquaintances would attempt to dictate who I vote for. How dare the privacy of the polling booth, one of the most sacrosanct occasions of personal sovereignty and modern democracy, be spilled with such liberal contempt into the baying public arena? [Edit: With more on Facebook’s breach of privacy, see Al’s ‘Social Media Fails‘]

The greater sharing of information, the extended reach for campaigning, and the innovative use of new media for political purposes are all to be respected and admired. We are at a time when we could be united in celebrating an open campaign which only goes to improve the (relative) democracy we are fortunate to have in this country. Instead, the derisory, majoritarian and adversarial tone of political ‘speech-acts’ has now shown that peer pressure has forced its way into youth politics, as I feared it might.

There are now those who feel confident/smug enough to reveal their private vote. Presumably, that’s because of the public impression they believe it portrays of them. (Why else, after all?) Others believe it is their ground to go beyond the campaign line and tell people who they should/should not be voting for, leaving heavy-handed insinuations about the gross misjudgment that anyone who may disagree would show. Were I to reveal I had voted a certain way, I run the risk of alienating myself from a good proportion of friends, with whom politics had never been a dividing line before.

The ‘itch of news’ as it were, the desire for man to have their voice heard as loudly as possible, is turning social networking into a barbed popularity contest. How times have I seen X labelled a ‘tw*t’ or worse with no better reason than that it’s the popular thing to do. I’m glad facebook politics has not won the day; there’s not enough maturity behind it.

Of course, it is more complicated than I am describing, but the bottom line is that this is a recipe for further disintegration.

Privacy is paramount inside and outside the polling booths

3 thoughts on “Privacy and Elections

  1. With all the recent furure about privacy and public revelations, my thoughts have been naturally drawn to you. You’re right to point out the basic and underlying fact upon which Facebook (nay, the internet?) is built – sharing and spreading. It is a tool of social media, which by its very nature cannot be used by a single user in a bubble. And yet… and yet… if a student complains about a university on Facebook, and this is then used by the insitution to bring reprimand, doesn’t that feel wrong, somehow? A private e-mail between friends would never be grounds – people would quite rightly be up in arms about the invasion. Facebook is a public space in which exclusively private things are said. It is, for many, a chance to talk ‘off the record’. Like a side comment made when our official self is turned off, we say things we don’t mean, and the things we mean aren’t meant to carry the authority of officialdom. See what happened to Gordon Brown when he thought no one was listening!

    My own privacy is being stretched at the moment. Applying for a visa to move to America and live there, I find myself in the strange position of being asked to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that I really am in a relationship with Ashley. Proving love has nothing to do with it – they want to see phone records, dated photos, texts we sent each other, train tickets, e-mails, congratulations cards sent from family, gift receipts for engagement rings, sworn statements from our nearest and dearest that we really are together… it goes on. Things that just *feel* like I shouldn’t have to show them to others – as if it’s an insult to even question who I am – are going to be photocopied and recorded with all the cold, hard light of a petty paper pusher. Ah, well!

    A good question might be, why do Facebook users feel they have such a right to complain when hey chose to sign up in the beginning? Like the America who sued McDonalds because her coffee was hot, and thus burned her (The clue, dear, is in the name- Hot Coffee), I kinda worry that the culture of entitlement is involved in this debate as well. I joined Facebook! But now… but now it’s not doing exactly what I want it to. How dare! Who do they think they are? To war!

    Of course I’m being silly, but it is a point.
    Also, I need to know what e-mail address is best to contact you!

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