Social media is widely used as a way to talk with friends and family, to access news and information, and even to plan events. Sites such as Facebook boast numerous ways that users can control how the information they share is spread. These so called “privacy settings” are purportedly intended to keep users’ personal information within their control.
In reality, anything an individual sends anywhere electronically is in danger of being compromised and used for purposes unintended by that person, whether by the individual or body the information is sent to, or by the company managing the transmitting service itself. The plain truth is that an electronic interaction is never an interaction just between two people.
The public has made it quite clear over and over again that privacy (individual control of personal information) is something that we value. Social networking sites are well aware of this, and work to appear as though they are constantly working to improve the ways in which users can choose to share their information, thoughts and images- or not share them. Privacy settings, however, as any regular Facebook user can attest to, are subject to change at any time, and often do change with little or no notice from the company. The sense of security and safety that these privacy settings are meant to provide are never actually only altered at the user’s discretion. Many companies can, as an example, purchase “master keys” to different social networking sites so as to check on the internet activities of potential (or current) employees. Additionally, the site itself can change systems for privacy settings at any time without prior notification, which often leads to information that a user has “set” to be private or shared only with a few people to be (at least until the user notices) made completely public.
The ramifications of information thought to be private becoming public can be devastating. Internet stalking is a real thing that happens to real people, and those real people’s lives are put at risk every time their information is revealed widely without their prior knowledge.
In addition to issues around corporations and their mishandling of user information, there have been a number of cases in the news of people entering into agreements with other private citizens about information or image sharing and having those agreements breached or violated.
“Sex tapes” being released on the internet, such as in the case of Paris Hilton, are the extreme examples of such agreements going terribly awry, and the dire consequences that can follow the public release of media meant to be shared privately.
That governments are so infrequently transparent in its dissemination of information, but individual citizens are increasingly required to be is another issue worth exploring.
There are a lot of reasons to examine issues of privacy and social media.