Trading privacy for social media exposure
From Karim Baratov's Instagram page.
George Orwell was wrong.
To be clear, he wasn’t wrong about a dystopian future where the privacy that is essential to our personhood is common property to be accessed at will by malevolent, faceless individuals.
But he was wrong in thinking that our privacy would have to be taken from us.
It would have been inconceivable to him that there would, within three generations of his writing 1984, emerge a society where people would proactively offer up their private lives, enthusiastically, and even boastfully to the world at large.
The absurd apex of this is the case of the Ancaster “nerd” Karim Baratov. Baratov is accused of being a criminal hacker/cyber attacker, possibly — according to allegations from the U.S. Justice Department — in the pay of the Russian government.
Innocent until proven guilty, as they say.
But holy crap on a cracker! If you’re looking for circumstantial evidence of a high school drop-out with access to an eyebrow-raising cache of cash, you’d need look no further than Baratov’s Facebook and Instagram photos of himself with glamorous women, bottles of high-priced vodka, $265 steaks and expensive cars. His neighbours have confirmed he was always bragging about his money and his stuff.
Um, isn’t a foreign agent supposed to be inconspicuous? If you watch FX’s terrific The Americans — about a couple-next-door/secret Soviet spies in Reagan’s America. PTA meetings, apple pie, kids with squeezable cheeks — all plausible deniability for their part in after-office-hours assassinations.
Now that’s how Russian agents are supposed to act!
But if the allegations are true, is Baratov an idiot or an addict?
If he’s smart enough to hack Yahoo, he’d almost certainly be smart enough to know to keep a low profile. But it’s possible he couldn’t help himself, so compulsive is the need to feed social media these days (and thus fill the empty space where your self-esteem should be).
These days, with triage in our depleted workplace, long-time specialized columnists like myself have been obliged to work news stories. And recently, I was given the Playa del Carmen nightclub shooting in Mexico to follow up.
It occurred to me that, since the nightclub was hosting an EDM (electronic dance music) festival, the celebrity DJs scheduled to perform that night would probably have Twitter accounts. Sure enough, they all did. And one of them, tweeted about it. “Me and my friends are safe,” German DJ Sidney Charles tweeted as soon as the gunfire died down. Happily, he waited until his heart-rate was down below 200 beats-per-minute to share the good news. But it’s not hard to imagine people being torn between running for their lives and sharing.
As details of Kim Kardashian’s hostage burglary in a French hotel came out, it became clear that Kardashian’s frequent social media posts were invaluable to the culprits, effectively providing constant reports on Mrs. Kanye West’s whereabouts (and even the value of her jewellery, of which she helpfully posted proud pictures).
Our former theatre critic John Coulbourn once found himself a juror on a murder case that was declared a mistrial because a personal profile a teenage witness had posted on a “vampire enthusiasts website” contradicted her testimony.
The chummy, “just-between-friends” vibe of Facebook really lends itself to the too-much-information society. As in, “Really looking forward to this European vacation that’ll leave our house empty for three weeks. Happily, Bob has agreed to feed our cats and water our plants (key’s under the matt, Bob!).”
Like other people who dream in Technicolor, I have my plans for that inevitable some-day lottery win (whether it comes from the Ontario Lottery Corp. or the Russians). First of all, I’m hoping it’s one of those mid-size wins — like the dozen-or-so $1-million prizes they give away alongside the big jackpots. Easier to keep out of the papers.
I would not immediately ramp up my lifestyle in any obvious way, and I certainly would not be tweeting it or posting it on Facebook. In fact, as a distraction, I might take to posting complaints about the current state of my finances.
And if the OLC did rat me out to the press, I would be off the grid faster than you can say, “Dasvidaniya!”