How Facebook Will Change Our Scandals

By Jenny Merkin

For a country that claims to be obsessed with protecting our privacy, we certainly enjoy eroding it ourselves.

The explosion of Facebook and Twitter means that for the first time, huge swaths of our private lives are available to anyone with a computer screen and internet connection. It's not just the pictures and the step-by-step documentation of meals. A new algorithm can decipher a user's sexual orientation based on his profile and friends. NPR unveiled med students posting inappropriate pics on Facebook, from typical boozy fare to actual violations of patient confidentiality. Will Facebook's popularity make damaging scandals more common, or will it make the breaking of private-life scandals seem merely commonplace?

A combination seems the most likely outcome: Scandals will still exist, but popular reaction could ease. As with monetary inflation -- the more money out there, the lower the value of the dollar -- we could experience scandal inflation. With so much private information sloshing around the net,  scandals could lose their luster.

It's happened before. Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg told the Boston Globe in 1999 that Republican Presidential contender George Bush would have to commit a horrible action to derail his candidacy because "Clinton's indiscretions have numbed the public." America had grown accustomed to all of Clinton's affairs, and these political errors lost their shock value.

A Facebook scandal like the one exposed in the NPR article about medical school students will not come as a surprise because, well, we've seen those kinds of pictures. Obama's off-the-record "jackass" comment about Kanye West was met with some outrage and a lot of shrugs. Maybe the future is plentiful scandals seeming prosaic. After all, who wants to throw stones when we all live in glass houses of our own making?

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2009/09/how-facebook-will-change-our-scandals/27470/