Virtual Distrust

On my recent birthday, I got a lot of congratulations attached with a cautious question: Is the date you give on Facebook really your birthday?

While not utterly surprised, I was astonished by the frequency of these questions, which raises some important issues: What does it mean if we have to expect that information published by our friends in online publics is distorted, not to fool us, but to trick data mining companies and identity thieves? What does it mean for our society if we encounter some of our most important publics – social networks – with distrust, so that we do not feel free to publish personal information there? Will this “virtual distrust” make online public spheres less open, welcoming spaces? What does this mean for our ability, and will, to communicate with others, especially strangers?