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Social Media: A False Sense of Privacy

30 Jul

A friend of mine, Martin Husar, recently deleted all of his Facebook friends (myself included) and changed his personal page to “public”, allowing people to follow him rather than friend him. Out of curiosity I reached out to Martin and asked him why. He responded by publishing an awesome blog post that addresses the realities of Facebook’s “privacy” settings and how he didn’t want to stress over who was actually potentially seeing what, and what that implied for his digital privacy.

Within his post, Martin writes:

… Soon, everyone who is seven pixels of separation away is getting all of your posts, and the same is happening to you. Your news feed starts to become less and less relevant, and you start to become less relevant to others. Add to the mix the recently announced public #hashtags now supported by Facebook, et voilà there’s yet another new dimension to think about every time you upload, comment or post.

Besides, if that funny picture of you trying to stuff five hotdogs into your mouth at the same time is really that funny, someone may just go ahead and post it publicly anyway.

So why even bother selecting ‘audience’? Is it worth taking the time to set-up friend-lists to whom you can post and grant access to different things? Is it worth spending time to manage visibility for all the different photos, posts and other items that allow you to select ‘audience’? Why ‘friend’ someone only to put them in the ‘Restricted’ list Facebook offers, or have them do the same to you? Aren’t ‘friends’ supposed to trust each other?

The point is that all of these advanced ‘audience’ and ‘privacy’ settings are in my opinion more about an impression of security, like the dummy security alarm stickers many put on their homes. They make you feel safe, and provide a buffer at best, in an environment that is really open. These features exist to encourage you to share, to make you comfortable with sharing … which is why you joined a social network in the first place, right?…

Read: 4 Steps to Building your Personal Online Reputation

This got me thinking of how right Martin is. I enjoy my private Facebook page as exactly that – the only social network that I exclude business colleagues and anyone that I don’t see regularly and fully enjoy sharing my personal time with. In other words, my closest friends and family. And though these are all people that I trust and admire, who’s to say that the words, thoughts, pictures and videos I choose to share with them won’t be made public to the world someday. I mean, let’s face it, we all know (and checked off the little box to say that we approve) that once something is uploaded to Facebook, it no longer belongs to us. Facebook clearly states that once we take this action, we have decided to make our private words, pictures and videos public with the world.

So false sense of privacy? I think so!

What’s my point?

All this is to say that, as aware as we are about the need for online reputation management and responsible publishing and posting, sometimes this false sense of privacy can leave us vulnerable – at our own risk. So take this as a reminder to truly think before you post, no matter what privacy settings you have set. What happens on social stays on the web… forever. And with every new post you have to wonder: how can this affect your future?

6 Responses to “Social Media: A False Sense of Privacy”

  1. Chris Syme July 30, 2013 at 10:45 am #

    This is certainly an interesting take on privacy. Where it really becomes a dilemma for people is when their private behavior doesn't match the professional image they want to portray. I think if that's your problem, social media will always be a trap. Facbeook is far from the worst platform out there, in my opinion. Given the current popularity of Instagram, I think it's a much bigger deal. There, like Twitter, there is no privacy unless you lock your account and approve followers. You are right–online reputation is a huge need, but from the angle that we need to learn how to use social media responsibly, not segment out our various pieces of life to different channels. Unfortunately it will always be a problem for people who believe, as the blogger pointed out, that they can somehow manage their private life and their public life separately. There is no such thing today.

    • Melissa Agnes July 30, 2013 at 10:54 am #

      Hi Chris,

      I don’t disagree with you whatsoever. However, to each their own. Two examples for you:

      Myself: I am who I am and I don’t do anything that doesn’t run true with that. However, I do enjoy posting things to my private Facebook page that is just intended for those who know me best and with whom I have a personal relationship – not a professional one. It’s not an attempt to separate my professional and personal sides – they are one in the same – but there is a difference in what I choose to share.

      That said, I have friends who are huge public figures and who, like myself, are who they are and have no reason or want to hide that. However, like Martin, they have a public Facebook page and post absolutely nothing regarding their personal lives (family pictures, etc). They do this by choice for pretty much the same reasons Martin has expressed.

      So as I agree with you wholeheartedly, there are other things to think about when choosing the different social platforms to be a part of and how we want to use them. That being said, and like you’ve said, there’s no hiding or taking back what has been published on social (or online period) and we all have to do so responsible, no matter what our choices are.

      The point of this post was as a reminder that no matter our choices, social definitely does give us a false sense of Privacy – and Facebook is definitely one of them. How they make us feel and what they track, store and share with many (actually an unlimited amount of) third party entities is not what most people are aware of – but the details of that will be for another post ;)

  2. Melissa Agnes July 30, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    You've hit it right on the nail, Veronique. We're all saying the exact same thing here: our personal online reputations are important and we need to look at everything we post as if it has the potential of going public – which it very much does.

  3. Veronique Mizgailo July 30, 2013 at 12:41 pm #

    I have to say that I largely agree with Chris. Whilst I operate my Facebook account in the same way Melissa does, and I will tick any privacy restricting box going, I am very aware that it might not just be my nearest and dearest I’m boring or scandalising! For that reason, I would not trust very personal material to social media sites, and generally I think people should be very cautious about posting anything they wouldn’t be happy to stick up on the notice board of their local supermarket. They should also consider how it might affect other opportunities too. I spoke to a recruiter just last week who excluded two candidates who looked great on paper, but a search of their social media, most tellingly Facebook, showed that they supported views completely unsuitable for the company that was considering employing them.

    Also, as Melissa rightly says, what is put on social media is there forever. I work in a university and am amazed at the amount of students who simply do not understand that their chances of an internship or employment may be seriously impeded because they’ve posted something vicious, offensive or just plain silly. People do need to be much more social media savvy and understand the implications of other people and organisations seeing what they post without the benefit of context or a personal relationship.

  4. martin husar August 31, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

    Nice read and thanks for the mention, Melissa.

    The discussion to your post above led me to write a few more words earlier this month – not sure you got the pingback:

    • Melissa Agnes September 3, 2013 at 10:22 am #

      Hi Martin,

      I did and I enjoyed the read, once again! I shared it out on social media, but have not had a chance to respond. Will plan to do so ;)

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