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PC Patrick Alejandro

Tech’s cynics censor snaps

With wetheretrievers’s recent return from its unexpected hiatus, The Retriever newsroom has been abuzz with discussions of Snapchat and, by extension, students’ expectations of privacy with the app in their places of education, residence and work.

Various stories have swirled around the UMBC gossip mill — stories of students busted with weed when their RA saw them on a Snapchat story and rumors about departments and organizations banning their members’ use of the app.

Snapchat began as a way for lustful users to send nude pictures to one another without leaving any evidence. Photos were, in theory, erased after no more than ten seconds. If a recipient took a screenshot, the sender would be notified. It was a simple concept, and one that implied a certain level of privacy.

Unfortunately, we have learned that it is possible to take and distribute users’ photos without notifying them or getting their permission. Third party apps have allowed users to leak over 200,000 private photos in just one attack, proving that the presumption of privacy when using Snapchat is false.

Were the old people right? Did the Wall Street Journal and New Yorker think pieces have a point? Are we, the mercilessly-mocked millennials, yet again hoisted by our own petard?

The answer is a firm “perhaps.” If you look at it from a tech-wary perspective, of course we should assume our information would be leaked. One hears of incidents of hacking, data breaches and leaks daily. Of course we should be careful with what we put out into the technoscape. Of course we should expect employers to see the contents of our social media.

On the other hand, we shouldn’t expect our bosses to check out our Snapchat stories and Instagrams. It seems to some to be an invasion of privacy, not necessarily because of the way the information is obtained, but because it is sought at all. Social media is just that — an extension of our social lives. If reasonable measures are taken to prevent the general public from seeing an employee’s social media, employers shouldn’t take pains to see what their employees are doing in their spare time, within reason.

Moreover, employers shouldn’t have the right to ban their employees’ use of social media outright. This is a dangerous form of censorship. These groups are essentially saying “don’t use this form of media, and don’t spread these ideas, unless you want to get fired.”

This may sound far-fetched, but the issue of social media censorship in workplaces and organizations hits closer to home than you might think. Some UMBC Greek organizations have expanded their social media policies of not posting pictures and video while drunk to specifically include Snapchat stories.

These new policies reflect the new, more public Snapchat landscape: when some of the most popular snap stories on campus are umbc.snaps and umbctits, you can’t be too careful.

While it’s understandable that these groups want to preserve their reputations with the public, censoring their members’ social media content is not the way to reach that end. The beauty of new media technologies is the increased access to tools of self-expression and communication. We can’t expect people to push the boundaries of media, social or otherwise, if they are afraid of what their bosses will say.