YouTube has changed our world, for better or worse

Published 8:16 am Tuesday, September 18, 2012

George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 brought the phrase “Big Brother is watching you,” into our vocabulary. Orwell’s prediction is starting to come true, but I would argue that there is a slight difference. Instead it should say, “Everyone is watching you.”

I was struck by two major news events recently, both of which took place thanks to the improvement in technology. First, an anti-Islam movie’s trailer on the video-sharing website, “YouTube,” helped escalate violence in the Middle East, leading to an attack on an American embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Secondly, earlier this week, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney made headlines when a secretly taped clip surfaced showing him as stating, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them …”

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It remains to be seen whether Romney’s “47 percent” quote will ultimately become a gaffe that could cost him the election. After all, much of that 47 percent is made up of the elderly and other blocs that often vote Republican. Regardless of the political fallout, these incidents do show one ultimate truth, that we live in a world where it’s possible that someone could be watching, or recording, at any time. It’s equally possible that thousands of people, if not millions, of people could then view that recording if it ends up on the internet at a site like YouTube.

It seems like every week, there is a new YouTube clip of a student taping his teacher saying some ridiculous statement, or a company employee treating a customer badly, or a flash mob invading a local business. It is almost a little frightening to know that just about everyone has a cell phone, or an iPad, or a camera, and all of sudden anything we do or say in public has the potential to end up on YouTube and get broadcasted to the world.

There is no doubt that some of these clandestinely taped clips will ultimately lead to a public good. If somebody records a corrupt politician on camera, and that clip eventually leads to the politician’s impeachment, it should be considered a good thing. But there are also many innocent people who may have their lives harmed because they thought they were alone, when they really weren’t.

There is no doubt that much of technology has made our lives better, but I am extremely worried that we are slowly, but surely, starting to lose the concept of a “right to privacy.”