Fear Mongering

3 minute read

Under normal conditions, when I try to explain privacy and security concerns to people, the best way to do so can be considered fear mongering. Facts don’t usually sway people when used directly, so I’ve found the most effective approach is through narrative, and usually with myself or others as the protagonist. By not bringing the audience into the narrative, this allows them to place themselves into the narrative so the emotional impact resonates. This is also important because the facts or impacts of a privacy violation that resonate with me may be completely different than which resonate with you.

Another notable part of the privacy narrative I’ve spent at least 5 years sharing, is that privacy isn’t about being anonymous, per se – it’s all about consent. Privacy Is Consent is an important narrative, as consent is a loaded term in our culture, and the vast majority agree that consent should be respected. If I was to update that important phrase, I would add that privacy is informed consent – you must adequately and honestly informed about the risks of such consent.

You may have consented to having a Facebook account, but are you adequately informed about what they’re doing with that data? I would suggest most people should say no.

When I speak on privacy and security, I’m intentionally provocative in my narratives, but people who hear me are choosing to come to my talks, or subscribe to my social media feeds, so they’re consenting. At the last talk I gave here in Vancouver, I started my talk by creating a space for people to leave before my talk, as I was about to explain 3 ways that smart phones are being tracked, so I specifically warned the audience – if you have anxiety or paranoia issues historically, come back in 10-15 minutes as this talk may trigger you. It’s important for a speaker to consider their audience when something may be triggering.

Under “normal times”, most people have the faculties to manage their anxiety and paranoia, and/or they can seek a support system that can help them out. Fast forward to now, we’re in the middle of an unexpected global pandemic, and the global anxiety level is spiking – people are afraid. This is not the time to be fear mongering, if you have empathy. This is the time to demonstrate leadership, through modelling the way, and hope.

I write all of this, after spending a lot of social media time during the pandemic, and I see two notable camps of fear mongering – the conspiracy theorists, and the misguided helpers. If you’ve got a friend talking about bats, Bill Gates, and 5G over the last month, those are your conspiracy theorist fear mongering friends. The other fear mongering friends are those that are aware we have a globally heightened emotional spike and are still sharing covid-19 “facts” in an attempt to keep others informed.

For example, I’ve run a globally, active, Signal group on COVID-19. I’m up to date with the lastest on the facts and research with a solid group I can trust, but I don’t share any of it, as if you’re struggling at home, I don’t want my feed to impact you. You can ask me any time if you have any questions about it, but I feel it’s irresponsible to be proactively sharing “facts” on a public stream considering the emotional climate. Sure, you can argue that people can unfollow you if they don’t want to read what you’re sharing, but when everyone’s scared, they’re going to read the information provided to them, and due to social media’s biased news feeds, your fear mongering might be presenting itself when your friend or family member in need is hoping to find some respite in social media during this time.

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