Several years ago, Steven May did what any heartbroken, web-savvy individual would do: he blogged. Why throw gravel at your ex-girlfriend’s window, or leave groveling “Iloveyou” [sniffle] “Imissyou” [honk] “Canwepleasepleasepleasegetback— tooooo—” [voice crack] “—gether?” messages on her answering machine when you could just as easily get her attention by broadcasting your woes on the web? But May never really intended for his ex-girlfriend (and ex-girlfriend’s friends, and ex-girlfriend’s friends-of-friends) to see his post-breakup blog. Really—he just needed to get a few things off his chest. Although May’s reactions were “virtual,” the ramifications of his online grievances were real; he received a phone call from his ex-girlfriend, asking him to stop blogging about their breakup. “She thought it was an invasion of her privacy,” says May, “even though I never used her name, or posted her photo. But a friend of hers had directed her to something I’d written online, and she asked me to stop.”
A few years later, May saw the potential for many more breaches of privacy in a (then) relatively new social networking site. Enter: Facebook. “When I saw Facebook really taking off in 2006 or 2007, I kept thinking that this was going to be a real mess in terms of online privacy. I’d already learned the hard way about the impact of user-generated content—I already knew that something that you create, that’s spur-of-the-moment, can be up there forever.”
So May, who calls himself “a bit of a veteran when it comes to writing stupid stuff online,” enrolled in Ryerson’s Master of Arts in Media Production program. In lieu of writing a thesis, May created Weekend Pictures, a website devoted to online harm-reduction.
“We only change our behaviour online, or thinking about the impact of our sharing online, when something bad happens. People just don’t seem to be realizing that everything is aggregated, saved, stored. As Dr. Greg Elmer [May’s project supervisor] says, we’re still in a period of hype; we’re still looking at the Internet like it’s a party.”
After driving “all around the country” (and through parts of the States), May compiled twenty-two hours of unstructured video interviews. His three- to eleven-hour road trips resulted in over one-hundred filmed conversations with Toby Miller, Jonathan Zittrain, Raymi the Minx, danah boyd (seen in the video above), David Lyon, and, yes, even Michael Geist.
“These interviews really explore the impact of user-generated content, like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube,” says May, whose site was shortlisted for a web award at SXSW Interactive in Austin, Texas. Although May has successfully defended his MA project, his work on privacy and user awareness has really just begun; at the end of the month, he’s travelling to Cambridge, MA, to present Weekend Pictures at MIT’s “Stone and Papyrus, Storage and Transmission” conference. And in case you’re wondering: yes, he’ll be tweeting about MiT6 while he’s there.