Social networking and privacy rights mobilization: The perils of friendships

AuthorLesley A. Jacobs
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#cha pter3
In the everyday lives of Canadians, especially younger Canadians, one
widespread practice to emerge as a component of the new digital economy
has been social networking. Social networking refers to Web-based inter-
personal relationship networks that enable individual users to build and
expand their circle of acquaintances t hrough friends and the friends of
friends who make up the network. In eect, s ocial networks have shied the
meaning of friendship from a close, personal, inti mate relationship to one
that can be sustained through digital interactions in a v irtual space. Social
networking sites are designed to oer services whereby the users contribute
content, most oen personal information, including details about their ac-
tivities, people they know, their preferences, and photographs and images.
e personal information shared in the name of virtual friendships
has immense commercial value in the global digital economy. e world’s
largest social networking site, Facebook, was envisioned al most from the
outset as a way to revolutionize connectivity and relations between people
using digital tools and t he Internet. In March , Facebook reported that
. billion clients used their services on a monthly basis. In Canada,  mil-
lion access Facebook monthly and  million, daily. Yet, this social net-
work has facilitated millions of insta nces of invasion of privacy by Facebook
friends. From a privacy perspective, the commercialization of friendships
through social networki ng sites, such as Facebook, in the global digital
economy represents the perils of friendship.
is chapter examines, th rough a legal consciousness lens, privacy
rights mobilization among Canadia n youth of ages eighteen to twenty-four
with regard to social networking. e a rgument is that a key component to
Privacy Rights in th e Global Digital Economy44 |
privacy rights mobilization and, t herefore, access to civil justice is the legal
consciousness of the persons who have had their privacy rights violated in
their pursuit of virtual friendships. e main insight oered in th is chap-
ter is that improved access to civil justice can be achieved by answering
questions about what having privacy rights means to aected p ersons: How
do individuals from these marginal groups view the legality of the privacy
rights? What sorts of cultura l meanings are bound up in standing on one’s
privacy rights and claim ing those rights in a legal process? Does the mean-
ing vary according to the sor t of privacy at stake? What sort of identity must
be assumed in order for someone to mobilize on their privacy rights? e
answers to these questions should guide us when determini ng appropri-
ate paths to justice for resolving legal problems arising from privacy rights
issues in the everyday lives of Canadia n youth.
I noted earlier a distinction between two approaches to better understand-
ing the obstacles and challenges of privacy rights mobilization in Canada.
Recall from Chapter  that privacy rights ascription — expressions of pri-
vacy rights in legislation, constitutional i nstruments, policy, judgments,
and other legal sources — is dierent from privacy rights mobili zation, a
matter of when individuals invoke or stand on their rights. One approach —
the traditional approach to access to civil just ice — treats the obstacles and
challenges of privacy rights mobiliz ation as ones of underfunding, shortage
of resources, and institutional incapacity i n the Canadian justice system.
Privacy rights mobiliz ation is, in other words, a problem of unfair distribu-
tion of the opportunities to access paths to cla im rights. e other approach,
which is explored here in this chapter, holds that, when people in Canada
do not stand on their privacy rights aer those rights have been violated,
it is a reection of how they understand and make sense of the legal con-
struction of privacy rights. How people understand and make sense of the
legality of rights constitutes their lega l consciousness. For this reason, legal
consciousness matters to access to civil justice for privacy rig hts protections
in the global digita l economy.
At its core, legal consciousness is how ordinar y people, as opposed to
legal professionals such as judges and lawyers, understand and make sense
of legal rights. It describes “the importation of legal principles into every-
day life and the transformation that occu rs as individuals move toward
an understanding of events or experiences as injurious and deser ving of

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