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The Salahis, Facebook and the Power Wall - The LAMP

The Salahis, Facebook and the Power Wall

By December 10, 2009 News No Comments
Michaele Salahi getting friendly with Joe Biden

Michaele Salahi getting friendly with Joe Biden

Like everyone else, I couldn’t help but hear about Michaele and Tareq Salahi. On Thanksgiving morning, I was eating breakfast with my parents in the hotel where we were staying, and that same bit of footage–Michaele and Tareq enter, wave, walk; Michaele holds him back for another camera opp–played over and over again. At first I didn’t realize the magnitude of what had happened; that this was a major security breach and not just a publicity stunt or a misdirected invitation. Then reading online today in the New York Times, I learned of still another sin the Salahis committed–they put the pictures up on Facebook!

Now, aside from the obvious stupidity of publicizing pictures of yourself posing with leaders of the free world at a very exclusive party to which you were not invited, I have to say I disagree with part of David Segal’s criticism. He points out that by posting photos on Facebook, the Salahis erred by making public the traditional, time-honored Power Wall (i.e., physical wall of photos of yourself with important people). The Power Wall used to exist only in offices or homes, but not anymore. Years ago, if a photo was to be seen at all, it had to be printed, so the print itself was not a big deal. Now, choosing to print a photo indicates that it is something special, and so the pictures you display in private are carefully curated by you or someone close to you. For the purpose of striking awe in someone sitting across from your desk, a traditional Power Wall is still effective, but the days of owning your image are long gone. That client can walk out of your office, find you on Facebook or Flickr, and see any old picture they want; the word ‘authorized’ means very little. Your real power wall is on Facebook, and you demonstrate power by making sure you are not tagged in photos you don’t like. One would think this would be understood in an Administration which was put in place due largely to its wielding of social media.

While a large part of this has to do with social media and technology, another part of this has to do with media itself. One of the basic points of being media literate is understanding the power of imagery, which is something we generally take for granted. The Salahis certainly did. I have plenty of friends who have posted photos on Facebook from the time they met a famous actor, shook the hand of Barack Obama as he campaigned for President, and even one friend who snapped a shot of herself with the Dalai Lama, but the difference is that no rules were violated in the process. It’s really the very well-known context of Michaele Salahi’s shot with Joe Biden that makes it so inappropriate to share, and the fact that she shared it demonstrates idiocy, naivete, lack of foresight or all of the above. But if Biden–or any other White House officials who allowed personal cameras into the event–didn’t think that photo would turn up later, he was not much better.

–Emily Long