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Doing the rounds are complaints. All sorts of complaints. Steve Jobs is controlling. Child porn is everywhere and will eat your children. Games on computers are destroying the moral fabric. And now Facebook is a threat to your safety.

Take a deep breath and relax. These demons are not about to unleash hell upon you. And Facebook is a free site that you enter at your own risk.

Look, the internet is nothing at heart more complex than other forms of public communication, like a noticeboard in a hallway. You pin open and private notes to the board, to be read by all and individuals. Sometimes others read what you put on that board who you didn’t intend to, so you take precautions, right? You don’t put private details that you do not want everyone to read on that noticeboard. You use private jargon and terms to communicate to friends – “Meet us at the diner at eight”, not “The three of us girls will be unattended at the diner on the corner of Smith and Wesson that has the dark car park”. That would be stupid. So why do you think that the internet, which everybody knows resides on thousands of computers and uses publicly available transmission technologies, would be more secure than a noticeboard in a dorm?

Rule Number One is: Do not put private information out in public.

Rule Number Two is: Know what is a public forum.

Rule Number Three is never send money to anyone you don’t know, but since you all know me, send me five dollars for this invaluable advice…

And yes, Steve Jobs is controlling. If you don’t like that, use some other hardware and software. If you don’t care, use his. So long as no government or statutory body such as a school insists on handing your information to Jobs or restricts you to his and only his company’s products, who cares?

These are not the demons that they are painted to be, and we have a lot of demons to choose from these days. Child abuse is one of them. I doubt that there is any more child abuse today, proportionally, than there was in 1900, 1950 or even 20,000 BCE. Humans tend to treat their kids much the same in all places. What has changed is not the rate of abuse, but the reporting, and when you can hear about things daily that happen thousands of kilometres away rather than only in your own village or suburb, it raises the rate of fear and anxiety. We don’t need demons.

Child pornography is not about to warp your kids minds or put them at risk – we should prevent it, but not surrender everything about the internet that makes it great, and certainly not everything about our rights that makes this the most peaceful, best educated, healthiest, most survivable period in history in many places in the world, including mine. My predecessors and ancestors fought for those rights. I don’t want to see them restricted because we fear demons.

Maybe we need demons, because there have to be Bad Guys, Others, the Outgroup. Maybe we are constitutionally incapable of enjoying a good life without them. But I hold a hope that we are better than our inherent tendencies, and that we can get over our fears. So forget about Facebook’s changes, act sensibly, and buy the computers you want. And chill.


  1. Susan Silberstein Susan Silberstein

    My husband asked me today, are more bad things happening at the same time than in the past? I said I think four things are going on:
    1. Global warming causes bad stuff.

    2. When there is an earthquake/tornado/tsunami/ [insert bad thing] where there used to be 200 families living but now there are 200,000 families, yeah, it’s worse.

    3. People live where people did not used to live cause those were not places where it was good to live.

    4. Everything everyone knows gets passed around everywhere really quickly, but it used to take longer.

    • A. Clausen A. Clausen

      Let’s never forget the economic and political incentives. Scaring the crap out of people is big business. Why do you think so many “news” magazine programs are dedicated towards lurid, horrifying stories with the underlying premise of “this could happen to you and/or your children”?

      Politicians can sell bans and filters based on the terror that they, the police and the media have hyped up. Those in power always tend towards autocracy, the police are trained with a mindset that pretty much guarantees they’ll have this attitude, and the media is the willing whore of both, being pimped out to find reasons to justify obscenely intrusive laws.

      If you take sexual molestation of children, well, the fact is, that despite the Internet and sexual predators, a child is at more risk from family and family friends than they are from some random pedophile on an online chat group. Most abuse happens at the hands of someone the child knows, but that sort of information doesn’t sell Crelm Toothpaste like Internet predators.

      The easiest way for autocratic types to gain control is through fear. Get people scared and maintain that fear, and you can pretty much do whatever you want. I’m not saying that the Australian government is some secret Illuminati cabal or anything, but it is the nature of politicians that they tend to become paternalistic, viewing themselves as the answer to the real and imagined problems of society, and it is the nature of most people, being co-operative members of a Great Ape society to bow to the alpha individuals in the dominance hierarchy.

  2. send me five dollars for this invaluable advice…

    Would that be Centaurian or Andromedian Dollars squire?

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      Anything but Euros…

      • Ian H Spedding FCD Ian H Spedding FCD

        I think I still have a few quatloos and change lying around here somewhere…

      • Robert Robert

        For you, John, Canadian dollars. That’ll teach you!


  3. kubla kubla

    US Confederate dollars?

  4. Louis Louis

    I’m just interested in your Tweet that says you are lying in an Oxford hotel tired and shagged out.

    I had no idea it was that sort of holiday for you. I am concerned that whatever entertainment I provide on Thursday will be insufficient.

    You Australians eh! You know how to have a good time!


  5. Ian H Spedding FCD Ian H Spedding FCD

    If you’re in Oxford your nearest station would be…



  7. Regarding Facebook I think there are three points you are missing: 1) Many people using it haven’t realized how much the privacy policies have changed. Part of the making a big deal is to make people aware what they are getting into. 2) Even if one puts a minimum of information on Facebook (or no information), one still needs to worry about friends sticking up information about you, such as incriminating photos (most obviously a problem for underage college students in the US with pictures of alchohol). Indeed, if one isn’t on Facebook at all, it is still possible for friends to label a picture with your name, and you won’t even get alerted. This wasn’t a problem as much when the default settings for privacy were much higher. 3) Even though one can opt out of Facebook, it reinforces general cultural perceptions about the nature of privacy, leading to less respect and concern about privacy overall.

    That said, I agree that much of rhetoric over this issue is overblown.

  8. Susan Silberstein Susan Silberstein

    Eden Park

  9. Pat Pat

    “What has changed is not the rate of abuse, but the reporting, and when you can hear about things daily that happen thousands of kilometres away rather than only in your own village or suburb, it raises the rate of fear and anxiety. We don’t need demons.”

    – And everyone remembers the little girl who fell down a well in Texas.

    When people get reminded about this, they can see for themselves just how out of proportion the news has become. Sadly, they only seem to be able to apply that insight as hindsight.

  10. John Vreeland John Vreeland


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