How Facebook's New Privacy Settings Could Prevent Freedom Abroad

If Facebook was limited to democratic nations, I could understand Facebook’s decision to leave a lot of data public. However, while Facebook has always been a tool for spreading democracy around the world, it could be making things worse for many users who are under the control of tyrannical dictators and other aggressive regimes. Under the existing privacy system, your identity is only as safe as your weakest link (friend).

Take Iran for example where pro-democracy protestors are using Facebook as a platform to communicate with each other to organize action. Iran is known for pursuing and occasionally arresting those who speak out against the current regime in an attempt to curb further uprisings. There is no doubt that the state is monitoring Facebook usage including Facebook Pages and groups in an attempt to determine who are the greatest threats to the existing regime.

Facebook’s latest privacy settings allow users to prevent non-friends from viewing a user’s friends list. All friends can view your friends list though, something many users have already protested. In countries that pursue protesters and users posting anti-regime comments, all it takes is one person to give their account login and suddenly the regime has access to a wealth of information about other potential protesters.

Facebook has touted itself as a platform for spreading freedom and democracy around the world. For example in Colombia, Facebook was used to organize protests against the Farc. In Iran, Facebook has already been used to try to oust Ahmandinejad. There were protests organized in Croatia and a vocal group also attempted to organize protests in Slovenia. The point is this: Facebook has provided users with the freedom of communication and a certain level of protection from aggressive regimes.

However with the new privacy settings, it only requires one user to break down and give up their password before an entire uprising is squashed. Do you think the new privacy settings truly create risks for pro-democracy supporters abroad or is this a far fetched theory?

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