Why's Barry Sonnenfeld so scared of Facebook?

Facebook_l"I fear the Internet for so many reasons," the Men in Black auteur told a radio and TV trade association this week. Such as? "[T]he Facebook generation is not concerned with what people know about them… they will have no problem withadditional governmental supervision, spying and intervention… I suspect we are probably looking at the last generation of Americans that exist in a democracy. Totalitarianism is not far in our future, and the next generation will go down that road happily." Uh, of all people or things to blame for America’s slow slide toward fascism, Sonnenfeld is bashing Facebook?! I think we can all agree that Wild Wild West did way more harm to our precious democracy than any social-networking sites ever will.

In all seriousness, I guess there might be some merit in his argument that sites like Facebook have made today’s kids more comfortable with violations of their privacy. (Though it should be noted that the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails began in 2002, two whole years before Facebook launched.) But it’s pretty clear that the Web as a whole hasn’t made our society less free. Quite the opposite, in fact: These new technologies have massively democratized the flow of information and creativity. There’s more culture, entertainment, and ideas out there than ever before in human history — not exactly the picture of a totalitarian lockdown.  And, of course, that’s precisely the reason Sonnenfeld’s anti-Internet rhetoric would play well at a broadcasters’ convention. Radio and TV corporations don’t fear the Internet because of some nebulous threat to our civic ideals. They hate it because they believe that YouTube and such are eating away at their bottom line. Don’t they? Or do you think Sonnenfeld’s right, and status updates will soon enslave us all?

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  • Nix

    Well, this rebuttal may be flawed in itself, since I ditched PoliSci in college, but there seems to be an essential difference between a government knowing everything about you without your knowledge or consent, and your telling everyone everything about you, willfully and often outside all bounds of taste or caution. i think you’re closer to correct. In fact I fear the opposite of Sonnenfeld: the erosion of authority to the point that no one will trust anything else other than their own opinions.

  • Cinderella

    Nix, I couldn’t have said it better myself! There’s a huge difference between letting people on Facebook know what books I like and having the government read all of my private emails. If I put it on Facebook, it’s meant to be public. If it’s not there, it’s none of anyone’s business!

  • Hamburger Royal

    It’s not the status updates. It’s the free and voluntary sharing of information with strangers. I am amazed how many Facebook/Myspace users let anybody checking their profiles. A few days ago, some kid actually told CNN that “if it’s [a relationship] not on Facebook, it doesn’t exist.” While I wouldn’t go so far as to allege that the End is nigh, it does not seem to be totally ludicrous to assume that the veterans of the civil rights movement would be less inclined to happily provide their fingerprints, dietary habits or whereabouts if asked by an “Authority” than someone who, say, likes to share their pastime with the world by joining the Facebook group “I once found my pants in the driveway after a party”.

  • Hamburger Royal

    Oh, Simon, and regarding the free flow of information, the best example if the fantastic FireflyFridays segment just a post above, where I used to be able to watch the clip but now only get a black screen because Hulu introduced Geotracking and my IP address reveals that I am not accessing EW from inside the U.S. Just for argument’s sake (and the hope that I can continue to enjoy the superior non-dubbed dialogue on my favorite shows).

  • Tom Brazelton

    In a way I think Sonnifeld is right about the next generation of Americans who are maybe a little free and loose with their information. But I’m less afraid of totalitairsm than I am of a genereation of reality TV stars. My feeling is, if anyone wants your personal information badly enough, they can get it. REGARDLESS of if you’re online or not. Sonnifeld is basically the boy who cried wolf. The free exchange of ideas on the internet opens up WORLDS of possibilities not available to previous generations. There should be less reason for ignorance in an information age. Anything you want to know, you should now be able to look up. There is less and less room for ignorance and that’s a good thing.

  • Ames

    “There’s more culture, entertainment, and ideas out there than ever before in human history” — I would really like this statement clearly defined and then proven. An opinion is not an idea. And the trend for years has been the Westernization of cultures, not an explosion of more.
    And I believe what Mr. Sonnefeld is saying is that kids sharing info on the web so freely won’t be able to understand the significance of privacy and rally to fight against an increase of invasions into our lives. Not that wire tapping and Facebook are the same.

  • NineDaves

    I agree that Sonnifeld’s thesis isn’t really justified, but there is something to be said for the dangers of the uncensored and accessible information one can find about someone on the internet. With a simple web search, you can find unlisted home phone numbers, background checks, marriage records, criminal records, social security numbers, etc. With that information all already out there, the last thing I want to do is give people more knowledge about me by joining Facebook or Myspace, giving access to my picture, friends, hobbies, etc. Kids these days (did I just write that?) should be aware of that. Also, they should be aware that everything they post, job employers see. Every time I hire a new assistant, I look at their Facebook or Myspace page first. Pictures of you half naked and references to drugs out there for all to see? Probably not going to get you hired by me.

  • RP

    The problem is when you aren’t trying to share your information…and they expose it anyway.
    Facebook’s Beacon program has finally resulted in a lawsuit:


    She wasn’t listing what movies she was renting herself, Blockbuster sent that information to Facebook so they could put it out there themselves. Facebook should not be collecting information about you from the companies you do business with.

  • MKS

    So far, it doesn’t seem that any posters is part of the Facebook Generation like myself. I’m an admitted avid user of Facebook because it allows for easier contact and knowledge of how my friends and family in the country are doing while I’m at school. I completely understand the concern of privacy and I have taken full advantage of the privacy controls and protested when Facebook seemed to blur that line even further with various additions such as the Newsfeed. However, I think it is unfair to stereotype the entire generation of Facebook users as being too free and loose with their personal information. Some of us actually make the effort to protect our privacy, so I do resent it when people assume that we all don’t care whether other people know we like Scrabulous since I do care about how much people can find out from my profile.

  • paige

    oh we are sooo gonna be living in a dystopian society soon. say whats up to Big Brother!

  • Sharon

    hahahaha – loved your response to his comment, Simon. Thank you!

  • Snarf

    I think facebook is to some extent a form of affirmation (look I’m popular see how many “friends” I have?) for a lot of people. However if the online generations facination with posting the most inane details of their lives (ex: Sat April 20th took a dump) along with the more interesting helps North America get over some of it’s more puritan tendencies I’m all for it. Good luck finding a politician in about 50 years time who wasn’t cruising for sex on the net at some point, and a population that dosen’t automatically equate this with an inability to do the job.

  • DLM

    As a proud member of both Facebook and MySpace, I find it insulting that Sonnenfeld would question how strongly I value my civil liberties. The difference between sharing information online and having the government spy on you is choice. Online, you have the choice to reveal as much or as little of yourself as you wish. When your private communications are being monitored by government watchdogs, that is done against our will. There’s a big difference, Mr. Sonnenfeld, and I think most people on Facebook know it. In fact, do a quick search of Facebook groups and you’ll find several opposed to wire tapping, plus various groups against the PATRIOT Act, as well as some for it. That’s democracy.

  • Luis PJ

    I think the bigger fear is how we sometimes open too much about ourselfes in site like myspace and facebook forget that there are other people that can see your profile and that once you post it on the internet, it say on the internet. It a fine like between being open and keeping a secret in an online world.

  • lk

    im so sick of people calling my generation and younger generations “the facebook generation”…you cant classify me and my peers by a social networking website..whatever happened to titles like “generation x or generation next”? after all we certainly didnt create facebook/myspace

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