The Facebook Fallacy

All too often, I hear the word “Facebook” being used as justifications for why people with the connected lifestyle don’t deserve any privacy.

The argument goes along the line of “They publish everything about themselves anyway, there is no way in hell they can mind being wiretapped for the rest.” This is, of course, a complete and dishonest fallacy – and yet I hear it much too often.

People enjoying the connected lifestyle have a very strong sense of privacy – it just happens to be different from those that don’t live their lives online. The sense of the privacy onion – with layers closer to your heart only being shown to your closest group of trusted friends – has varied across the generations, and there’s nothing odd about that. Today, for instance, having a different sexuality than monogamous heterosexuality is no big deal at all that you’d happily publish and even have on your Wikipedia page; one generation ago, however, you kept it close to your heart.

The fallacy is the quite offensive inability to distinguish between voluntarily doing something and being forced to do it. It is the difference between consent and non-consent. Whether somebody thinks there ought to be consent based on his or her frame of reference is completely beside the point.

If I publish information, I do so voluntarily, even if it is information or images that would never have been published a generation ago. If information is taken from me, I get violated, my privacy gets violated.

Too frequently, you hear politicians argue in media that because of how people behave on Facebook, those politicians somehow have a moral right to wiretap everybody to at least the equivalent degree of what some people post voluntarily. This shows a complete lack of understanding not only of the concept of privacy, but also of the concept of consent.

A blogger in Sweden published a rather striking parallel (now offline); “Why do these people not understand the difference between having sex and being raped?”.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. Lothar

    The law enforcement doesn’t understand the differences, because they things the data access to the full databases of facebook google etc. is the same as the access to there own local law enforcement databases!
    But there should be a major difference due to the citizen rights.

  2. steelneck

    Well just say it out loud, it is a big difference between fucking and being raped.

    We can also see a discrepancy among many of those who use the argument you talk about, those people are many times the same persons who want more surveillance cameras on public spaces. In their argument about FB lies that _they_ do not publish things about them self, meaning that they would deserve the privacy. But as soon as they talk about surveillance cameras it gets turned upside down, because now suddenly the argument goes that they have nothing to hide.. Facepalm.

    But on the other hand. Suppoporting walled gardens like FB by using them is such a bad act, that it could downright be compared to have all your info going straight to servers controlled by the industrial security complex. The power establishment of the western society behaves just as the power do in china, they steer the disempowered populace, like a herd of sheep, to the very networks they can control one way or the other, and the herd just go along and even make up excuses for their masters. It is so very sad to see how more and more information gets locked up in these controlled networks and makes the net less and less interesting. Seen from the open net it is like people being sucked in and disappear. In Luleå,in the northernmost part of Sweden, where FB have started to build it’s new server-farm, people on the street have started to talk about it as the new spy-central. Shot through the hart, they are absolutely right.

    The net was supposed to be a network of peers, a network of equally empowered things, then it became more and more about servers and clients where the servers kept the logs. Now we have cloud computing which means that servers have gained freedom, clients have gained nothing. Please stop using walled gardens, it is the worst thing that has ever struck the internet, much worse than any law so far. Please!

  3. Aelius Blythe

    Good observation. This is infuriating. But it’s very common, isn’t it? Twisting a person’s to justify violations. Blaming the victim. The rape analogy is apt. With privacy and sex, the person who doesn’t lock themselves away in a tower must want to be violated, or so the fallacy goes.

    I like that you point out that this generation does have a strong sense of privacy. Think about how enraged people get when they find out something is not private that was supposed to be (see any number of Facebook privacy fumbles.) In a way, we almost value privacy more, because we know how easily it can be taken away.

    1. Scary Devil Monastery

      Concur. the fallacy comes from people not understanding the difference between providing information voluntarily – and being forced to share it.

      My own standard comparison is usually this: So you mean that because I might strip voluntarily on a nudist beach, it’s quite ok to force me to remain naked in any public place?

      Unfortunately a lot of sheep seem to think exactly that, and one problem is that they really don’t care that they make that decision for everyone else. This is worrying to say the least since we know from many decades of studies that the sense of privacy is one of those age-old motivators which many normal people are willing to defend to any length.

  4. Peter Andersson
  5. DiLang

    I agree with you.
    When people bring up the FB argument, I usually respond by asking them whom I should contact in order to permanently delete my government surveillance account and then be left alone.

  6. Telzey Amberdon

    Society has long-since held that celebrities court media attention, and therefore have little or no privacy rights and can be harassed by the media with the kind of intensity that doesn’t just border on stalking, it waves at stalking in its rear-view mirror. “They give interviews about themselves anyway, there is no way in hell they can mind being hounded for the rest.” I never thought that was fair, and that was the parallel I drew from this.

    I wonder what excuses “they” will come up with to take information on people who don’t live a connected lifestyle. I have a feeling they’re not going to give those of us who don’t have FB pages a pass on the assumption that because we seem to be taking steps to secure our privacy, we are therefore allowed to keep it.

  7. Laurel L. Russwurm

    I quite like the the privacy onion metaphor, because privacy has always been multilayered. Humans have always had the right to decide if and what we would share of our private lives, and with who.

    We have reasonable expectations of privacy, but it isn’t one-size-fits-all, rather these can be different depending on the situation. The level of privacy a married couple shares is different than the words spoken in the public forum of an AA meeting. A secret we entrust to a friend is not the same as the history we share with co-workers, or the things we say casually to acquaintances.

    What is posted to Facebook has an expectation of privacy because it is behind a password, and then further settings the user defines. This provides a higher expectation of privacy than something posted online in the clear would have.

    @steelneck There are a growing number of alternatives to walled gardens, many can be found here:

    1. steelneck

      @Laurel L. Russwurm: Yes i know, but this is not a question of me. We can all see how more and more blogs and forum get less and less “action” since authors and commentators are more and more preoccupied behind closed walls, that goes for the author of this blog too. Open discussions and information get closed in behind walls that the establishment of power control. Most of this information is not regarded as private by the author, but it is still unavalible from the open net. And whatś worse, people do write information they regard as private in these networks, and that is a fallacy of great magnitude, they could just as well write it directly to the state authority or evil companies with quite a lot of, and growing, power in society.

  8. Anonymous

    I like the analogy between Facebook/govt. surveillance and sex/rape, but I think you are missing an important point:

    Facebook’s Data Use Policy (previously known as the Privacy Policy), gives information about what will happen, but how many takes the time to read, understand and reflect over it, and how many don’t think they have anything to hide even though they do.

    A good example would be this: A big sign with the text “WARNING! EVERYONE WHO PASSES THIS SIGN HAVE THEREBY AGREED TO BE SEXUALLY PENETRATED!” and more than half of the people doesen’t even read the sign before passing it, and many think something along the lines of “well, i don’t have a vagina, so how are they gonna “sexually penetrate” me, completely forgetting about their anus.

    (Of course, when it comes to Facebook, gender has nothing to do with it, but it was the best example I could come up with.)

  9. DaemonFC

    Depends entirely on where you live. It still can be something that makes you want to run and hide under the bed over sometimes from the fire breathing conservative Christian hate machine.

    Besides, posting your sexuality on Facebook (or anything for that matter) is just stupid. There’s enough employers now that want you to turn over all your social networking accounts that posting your sexuality is still a big gamble if the person at that company happens to have a problem with that.

    Times are tough and people are hurting, freedom of expression is a luxury many people just don’t have. You see it on the news where people are getting their tattoos and piercings removed so they’ll “look right” for their employers.

    There’s still a lot of bigots out there.

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