Let’s Talk About Facebook and Social Media Privacy

Posted on April 12, 2018

by Heather H

By now, we’ve all heard at least something about Facebook and the heat it’s taking for sharing user data with Cambridge Analytica (if you haven’t, here’s the article that broke the news). Recently, I watched a CBS interview on the subject with Michal Kosinski, the Stanford University data scientist whose research inspired Cambridge Analytica’s now infamous (and wildly unpopular) tactic. What he had to say about internet privacy in general had me exclaiming, “finally, someone is telling the truth!”

What is the truth? Online privacy does not exist.

It’s difficult and frustrating to hear, I know. But as the saying goes, sometimes the truth hurts. What’s more, the idea of online privacy never truly existed in the first place.  

I’ve worked professionally in the field of social media for approximately 10 years now. If you put that timeframe into the existence of some of history’s major social media platforms such as Facebook (founded in 2004), Twitter (founded in 2006), Snapchat (founded in 2010) and Instagram (founded in 2010) – that’s more than half the lifetime of many, and longer than the lifetime of others.  

That said, I come at social media privacy from an educated perspective and have given many presentations on the topic to varying groups from university students, to professional organizations, to parents. And while I won’t give the entire presentation here, I will give you some questions and tips to consider:

Of your social media friends/followers – How many do you consider to be family or close friends? How many do you not know well? How many have you never even met in person?

We are responsible for our lack of privacy.

Here are some further questions to ponder:

  • Are you sharing photos of your children with people you don’t know?
  • Do you share photos or make posts that you wouldn’t want your parents, pastor, or boss to see?  
  • Do you share photos or information while out or on vacation (letting others know you aren’t home)?
  • If you are sharing images or information publicly (your Facebook posts are set to “public,” or your Instagram or Twitter accounts are not protected) who else is able to see your content? Answer: the entire online world.
  • What types of groups, companies or individuals are you interacting with on social media, and are you aware of their privacy settings and policies?

As Kosinski states in the CBS article, your activities online (even your user name) can reveal a lot about you – including personal information such as “whether you take drugs or not, whether your parents were divorced or not.” That’s because you are revealing this information through your own activities – which go beyond your personal profile and extend to the other social media profiles and sites that you visit and interact with.  

So, is there anything that can be done to improve your online privacy? First, I would reiterate that online privacy does not exist and encourage you to always keep this in mind moving forward.  

Aside from that, additional tips I typically offer include:

  • To keep something truly private, don’t put it on social media.
  • Set your profiles to the most private settings possible.
  • Pare down your friends/follows lists, and only approve those you know and trust.
  • Do not alert others that you are not home – instead, post after you return.
  • Avoid sharing, commenting on, or liking things that you would not be willing to defend to your parents, spouse, employer, religious leader, or others. Because there is no such thing as online privacy, your social media activity could cost you your job or hurt other personal aspects of your life as well.

That said, if you would like to take additional steps to increase your social media privacy, and/or learn more about it, here are some quality instructional articles:  

Facebook’s guide to its new privacy settings
How to protect and unprotect your Tweets
The essential guide to secure your Instagram account

I challenge you to spend less time on social media.

If you don’t want to take it from me – take it from not one but TWO of Facebook’s former leaders (Sean Parker and Chamath Palihapitiya) who have both recently expressed regret over contributing to the formation and growth of social media and have acknowledged that it can be psychologically unhealthy and damaging to our society.

Instead, I challenge you to put that time back into face-to-face connection with others. And hey, if you’re looking for something to do, I’d like to remind you that we offer 20 locations, millions of books, music and movies (that you can borrow for FREE), and over 500+ programs each month. In essence, the Library is the perfect place for you to begin!

Put down your phone and experience life!

At the Library we care very much about data privacy issues.  The privacy and the confidentiality of library records are deep and longstanding principles of librarianship.  In fact, the confidentiality of library account records is protected by state law (ORC  149.432). 

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