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The online show-offs who threaten our common privacy are on the agenda at conference of media experts

Online 'exhibitionists' who bare their personal lives to the world on the internet may be not just embarrassing themselves but undermining our right to a private life, a conference will hear this week.

SurveillanceThe threat comes from show-offs who record their drunken, amorous or even criminal exploits on Facebook, blogs or forms of new media. In the process they are unwittingly inviting the authorities to put new media under ever-closer surveillance, an expert argues in a new paper to be given on Thursday (7 January) at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Dr Kieron O'Hara will tell the annual conference of the Media, Communication and Cultural Studies Association (MeCSSA) that government, employers and other bodies interested in regulation or standards of behaviour are monitoring new media ever more closely, partly because of the exhibitionists. As a result, our expectation of a private life is under attack. 

Dr O'Hara, from the University of Southampton, said: 'Users of new media, in their self-disclosure, are often as complicit in assaults on our privacy as the authorities which orchestrate surveillance.'

He is one of 300 experts attending the three-day conference, hosted this year by LSE's Department of Media and Communications, and his paper will be given as part of a session on New Media, Mediation and Surveillance chaired by Professor Robin Mansell, LSE. This discussion will also include a paper from LSE's Professor Eileen Munro (on her concerns that children in England are to be electronically monitored as part of the government's policy to provide services for them) and one from Dr Adam Joinson of the University of Bath.

Dr Joinson, talking about intimacy, new media and surveillance, reports evidence that reticence, avoidance and even deception can be beneficial for relationships both for the development of intimacy and trust. He said, 'As new technology and social media encourage sharing of the small details of everyday life, it also reduces privacy in social relationships, and may have negative effects on intimacy levels between people. If you desire intimacy, it may well be disastrous to add your partner to Facebook, or to follow them on Twitter.'

Other sessions at the conference include one on the choices facing media regulators in years to come, (which will include a speech by Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom) and another entitled The Changing Place of Critique in Media and Communications.

A fourth session, The Challenges of the Cultural Industries, will debate the role for culture within new and expanding forms of media and knowledge. Among the speakers will be Dr Gillian Youngs, from the University of Leicester, who says that our growing digital economy risks dividing us into insiders (equipped with new skills) and outsiders who may be left behind.

She argues for a new wave of activists in education, media and business who can inspire new ways of learning new digital skills informally: 'The shift from industrial to digital cultures involves new ways of thinking about products, productivity and lifestyles. I think much more emphasis should be given in policy to promoting a new digital culture of active innovators.'

The MeCCSA 2010 Conference – Media, Communication, Policy and Practice – takes place at LSE from Wednesday 6 to Friday 8 January. For more information about the event or its speakers visit Department of Media and Communications


For more information contact: LSE's Department of Media and Communications on 020 7955 7248 or LSE press office on 020 7955 7060.

6 January 2010