Firefighters, Facebook and Life Online


In January I wrote of dozens of New York firefighters and police officers caught up in a Manhattan district attorney (DA) investigation over obtaining fraudulent disability benefits, including from 9/11.

Supposedly fully disabled public safety types were outed by their Facebook photos on jet skis, etc.

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The plot has thickened a bit as Facebook appealed the DA’s search warrant on behalf of its users who were unaware of the warrant and the fact that their Facebook accounts were being heavily scrutinized for leads in the investigation.

Hundreds of millions of people now use Facebook as their primary form of online communication where they post all manner of personal information, often relying on Facebook’s ever-changing privacy policy for some level of protection.

In fact, the court used the ability of Facebook user’s to control their privacy settings as rationale for ruling in favor of the Manhattan DA.

The New York judge turned Facebook’s privacy assertions down flat.  At least in this case, Facebook is just a repository of information.  They lack both privacy protection and the right to assert it on behalf of users.

The Online Life:  Share it

People now divulge significant life events that used to be either completely confidential or shared with a few close contacts online with nary a second (or first) thought.

Heretofore intimate details (and photographic documentation) are lobbed out for mass consumption and comment.

We apparently aspire to the virality of our personal lives.

So too, we often create “just the good times” effectively fictional lives that belie reality.

But the posted revelation lacks the emotional  intimacy of, god forbid, a face-to-face encounter.

Oddly, it’s deceptively private, worse yet, hidden, as the accompanying emotional response, or the risk of one, is prevented.

Anyone who has ever lost their emotional composure around friends or family during an especially tough time (despite an internal, personal promise to the contrary) knows the impact of human presence and interaction.

For many it is that very loss of emotional “control” characterized by its immediacy and vulnerability that is the pathway to healing and understanding.  It is the unique connection of humanity which bridges the void.

What appears as online openness and “sharing”  is in fact the opposite.  We can appear to navigate the pain and chaos of life while fast forwarding through the tough parts.

But not really.

Our online outpourings notwithstanding, we are all destined to travel the turbulent waters called life and doing so from behind a computer screen is but a temporary solution.

The carefully constructed cyber-self is a poor stand-in for the real thing.











  • Spartacus says:

    “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”
    ~Kurt Vonnegut, ‘Mother Night’

  • Victoria Huckenpahler says:

    I have mixed feelings about this, Eric. On the one hand, the computer is essential to me in my prison work, plus I enjoy e-mail as a way I can give the message my undivided attention at a time when my mind is clear. Too often callers get me at just a moment when I’m doing something else, so I’m not nearly as present for them as I am online. On the other hand, we are losing social skills through excessive reliance on machinery and are turning into, as one of the great contemporary Tibetan Lamas said recently, “a generation of cold metal people.” I think the answer, as with most things, lies in balance. Use the machinery when it’s the best solution (it is, among other things, a superb research tool), but remember to give our relationships the “face time” they need and deserve.
    Yours for greater balance, Victoria

  • Walter Fusco says:

    It infuriates me seeing people openly comment on other people’s post how they are only showing the good parts of their lives. I believe it’s one’s prerogative to hide what they want to hide, and show only what they please.

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