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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Facing Up to Your Own Facebooking

Consider this declaration by Thomas Baekdal (, February 25 2010) of the First Rule of Privacy as it relates to Faceook:

"I am the only one who can decide what I want to share."

Baekday continues, "The rule really is that simple, and it also the only rule that applies to privacy - and it covers any situation. No company, group, automated system, code algorithm, or other person can decide what I want to share. Just as none can decide that I should share something with an external party. I am the only one who have that power. And you can say the same. You are the only one who can decide what you want to share. Nobody else can do that. I cannot decide what you want to share, just as you cannot decide what I want to share."

Facebook friends, whose responsibility is lack of privacy?  In this age of the Internet, privacy is a genuine concern. When you sign up on Facebook with the intent to share personal information over the net, you choose to disclose whatever exclusive material you post. But, isn't it amazing you become so outraged at the idea that your intimate information might get to destinations you didn't intend it to go?

What Information Can Be Accessed?

Jaime Summers ("Facebook Controversy Part 1: Lack of Privacy,", August 11 2009) reminds you, "Everything that is ever posted on the Internet can be retraced and accessed, thus even when you think you’re deleting something embarrassing, it is never gone for good. The April 2009 deal between Facebook and the GSA (General Services Administration) cleared the way for federal agencies to use the social-networking tool ( Don’t forget about the controversial 2001 Patriot Act, which allowed the government to access personal information on almost anyone without court approval ( It is rumored that this included tracking methods as intimate as wiretapping, so why wouldn’t they be monitoring the Internet as well?"

Does Facebook Guarantee Privacy? 

Don't you believe that Facebook has no choice but to continue to test the boundaries of privacy? After all, its business model depends on people divulging things about themselves. 

Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group reports, "[Facebook] makes their money from advertising and selling information on their users, so full privacy is contrary to their business model. If they promise something they can't deliver, they just burn trust, so they may think it best to just leave the subject alone. They shouldn't overpromise and never provide the contents of the e-mail to anyone, including unauthorized internal employees. That last [one] will be very difficult to pull off, as Google discovered." (Sharon Gaudin, "Privacy Questions Trail Facebook Messages," Computerworld, November 16 2010)

And, Why Can You Be Misunderstood Even When You Decide To Share Information?

The changes for online miscommunication are great. Information listed on your Facebook page may be interpreted in a variety of ways given its frequent lack of context.

In one study, participants were asked to send an email conveying either sarcasm, humor, seriousness or sadness. They then sent the email, and the receivers had to guess what the sender was trying to express.

90% of the time, the sender thought the receiver would get their intended meaning. But, only 60% of the time the receiver could accurately guess which emotion the sender was trying to portray. (Nathan A. Heflick, "The Dangers of Email, Facebook and Twitter," Psychology Today, May 14 2011)

Of course, the sender is in a unique position of being able to know exactly what he or she is meaning. In turn, what makes sense to the sender doesn't necessarily make sense to the receiver because the receiver has less information, but the sender thinks it does.

On the receiver side, it is also extremely difficult to discern what someone means without non-verbal cues. Shrugs of the shoulder, hand expressions, and facial reactions play a huge role in normal oral communication. But, none of this is available on Twitter or Facebook or in an email. And, calamity can issue.

Do Your Friends Share Your Personal Information With Others?

A study conducted by Alan Mislove and his colleagues of Northeastern University  at the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems found,“The privacy story on these sites (Facebook) is more complicated that we like to think, as your privacy is not just a function of what you provide, it’s a function of what your friends and community members provide as well.”(Erik Hayden, "Why Privacy on Facebook is Virtually Impossible,", May 15 2010)

Researchers concluded that it wasn’t “sufficient” to just give users access to privacy controls for their own profiles; the option to censor friend lists should be given to make sure that private information cannot be inferred.

The Bottom Line

Baekdal's First Rule of Privacy is in effect. When it comes to sharing personal information, only you control the outcome. When you "put it out there," you have only yourself to blame when sharing causes you difficulties. Is a little notoriety with your friends worth the embarrassment of yourself and your family? Some might even ask if you should befriend family members or colleagues on Facebook at all. 

Maybe we should write a few truths for Facebook fanatics:
1. People are extremely curious, so they are going to look at it ALL your posts.

2. People love to be awed, so the more questionable your content, the MORE people are going to examine it and want to see even more shocking revelations.

3. People judge others as a survival mechanism; thus, they are going to make JUDGMENTS about you based on what they see in your posts.

4. People are gullible, and they assume what you posts are exactly what you ARE.

5. People love to gossip, and they are going to SHARE your life with others.

Whatever you choose to reveal online about your personal life is recorded and saved for others to peruse. In a perfect world, you could rest assured that no one would use that information to detract from your character. Unfortunately, no guarantees concerning the intent of Facebook friends, or even Facebook execs, exist. Any information that presents a risk is best left unposted.

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