Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, along with about a dozen other sites, all have one thing in common: they make attaining and retaining privacy in this day in age, a challenge. Gone are the days of a hand-written letterùFacebook messages are faster, free and involve less work.
But with so many venues for sharing information, how do people know when they might be sharing a little too much with too many people? Or even just the wrong people?
According to mass communications professor LaChrystal Ricke, it is not the social media sites that are to blame for minimizing privacy but the people who use them that are choosing to give others the access to their private information.
“We put a great deal of the information out to the public, so it is difficult to say that we want to maintain privacy when we will tell total strangers via social media, where we are, who we are with and what we are doing,” Ricke said. “It is very difficult to maintain a ‘private’ life when we engage in, really, any type of online behavior. Even a simple Google search is recorded in order to send us targeted advertisement messages.”
Ricke said although privacy is in some cases risked, there are positive things about social media.
“It’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s different,” she said. “Social media has enabled many things to happen that would not have been possible before it. It is great to be able to connect with people from previous jobs, schools, distant family and people from home. This is a big positive because in many cases it has strengthened our ability to connect with people.”
However, like all good things, she also said there is a negative side. Cyber-bullying has become a new type of crime plaguing society today. In addition, sitting in front of the computer screen has diminished the ability for people to have honest, face-to-face, conversations.
“On the other hand, it has changed a lot of our socialization processes,” Ricke said. “It is easier to be mean to people online versus face-to-face, we tend to have fewer inhibitions about what we say or what the impact of what we say may be, and this is in my opinion the worst part of social media, it has made people, students especially, less social with each other in face-to-face situations.
According to the Pew Research Center, 88 percent of teens have seen someone be mean or cruel to another person on a social networking site, 12 percent say they witness it frequently and 15 percent say that they have be the target of online harassment.
“If you walk into a class before it starts, students are not talking to each other, socializing in person, they are reading Tweets or Facebook versus engaging with people they are sitting next to,” Ricke said.
According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, 15 percent of Americans have never checked their social networking privacy and security account settings and 26 percent say that they are sharing more information on social networks today than they were one year ago. Additionally, 72 percent of teens have a social networking profile, 47 percent of whom have a public profile viewable by anyone.
“You wouldn’t tell someone in line at Wal-Mart all of your personal informationùwhere you live, where you go to school, so why would you share all of this information via social media by friending someone that you have just met,” Ricke said.
She also said internet users should look at the privacy settings of the sight.
“If we are uncomfortable with the policy, we can choose not to use them,” Ricke said. “Locking down settings to the point that only the people that you really want to share information with can see it is an advisable strategy.”
Ricke said key points to remember when using social media are manipulating the privacy settings, actually knowing the people you contact via that site and know that whatever is put online is there for the long haul and can affect not only you, but your future as well.
“Students should be conscious of the information they are putting online,” she said. “Once you post it, it is out of your controlùprobably foreverùyou have no control over where it goes, who shares it, who finds it, etc. So, sometimes it is best not to share that photo or not tweet that tweet.”
According to Ricke, more employers are basing part of their selections on the applicant’s social media sites.
“There is a movement for employers to ask to look at an applicant’s social media presence and so we should always be aware of that we are sharing with the world, both present and future,” Ricke said.
According to Ricke, if a person is willing to put their information out there for the world to see, they should also be willing to deal with the consequences of doing so.
“We have to realize with the use of the internet and social media – it is a give and take,” she said. “We have to be willing to accept the consequences of what engaging in these arenas are. When we post something, we are giving up our rights to it, we are sending it out into the world, and then we cannot get mad when then that reflects negatively upon us.”