“The future is private.” So said Mark Zuckerberg as he unveiled Facebook’s latest features and developments on Tuesday. Half way across the world, social media feeds of UAE residents were awash with footage of a parking valet risking his life by repeatedly jumping on the bonnet of a moving car in Dubai after an apparent dispute with the driver. The video went viral, prompting Dubai police to question all three – the valet, the woman driving and the man who was filming.
While the video has been widely shared on different platforms, this a reminder that publishing pictures that identify people without their consent is forbidden by law in the UAE to protect citizens’ right to privacy. In an age of oversharing on image-based social media such as Instagram and Snapchat, many seem to have forgotten that keeping personal lives private is a fundamental right. The parking valet in this shocking video put himself at risk in the course of doing his job while the driver acted recklessly. Their dangerous behaviour should certainly have been highlighted but sharing the footage with the relevant authorities or calling the police would have been the proper
action to prevent incidents of this kind, rather than posting them on public platforms for entertainment or amusement. This story might seem anecdotal but it is indicative of a wider trend. In the race for likes, shares and Insta-fame, users tend to forget that publishing content online comes with great responsibility, as posts can be disseminated to millions of people in a matter of seconds.
But users are not the only ones who carry a duty of care when it comes to the use – and abuse – of content. Social media giants such as Facebook have repeatedly failed to take down posts that contain violence, extremism or hate speech. The Christchurch attacks were livestreamed and viewed thousands of times before the video was taken down. Facebook – which also owns Instagram and Whatsapp – has faced an avalanche of criticism for breaching data privacy time and again. As Zuckerberg says, we now live in digital town squares. What we say, post and forward on, matters, and exists in cyberspace forever. Facebook’s new encryption tool and pivot to greater privacy is an important step. While the company continues to bear much responsibility for content, each user must bear and equal or greater amount. Whether it is through better regulation on the part of social media giants or basic common sense and compassion on behalf of users, we all have a part to play in keeping the internet a respectful space that does not encroach on the privacy of others.