You don't have to cancel your Facebook account, Yet...

The Privacy Issue

Facebook's recent problems with privacy are many.  One specific problem that Facebook users need to address relates to the privacy of their opinion. Just how public our opinions are, was largely something we understood for a long time.  People understand that what they say in front of people, has an impact on how other people feel about them, and this has not changed.

But what has changed, and is surprising for many users of Facebook, is that their opinions, often being shared without their full understanding, are in full view of many more people then they might have thought.  This is because when users post status updates, links to interesting websites or movies and pictures to their accounts, they often expect the content and their opinions expressed in them, to remain private.  And by 'private', we mean 'only expressed to those people with whom they shared that item'.  What some may not fully understand is that once it has been posted to their wall, friends of THEIR friends may see it on Facebook, and even more of an issue is that those trusted friends may share it outside of Facebook with other individuals. (And it can be difficult to understand; moreover, Facebook can change their policy whenever they want to, and they do it often). 

Don't tell anyone, tell everyone

Most IT professionals already have experiences with this type of 'mock' privacy.  A digital image, and email or an opinion expressed in instant message to a specific someone; once released to the web, can end up anywhere with anyone, logged, indexed and shared, and its life expectancy far exceeds its non-digital counterpart.  We know this, because we have all heard stories of people being fired from their jobs because of email, instant messages, or even comments on Facebook.

One analogy that can be used to describe this type of privacy, is a dinner party. This is an everyday occurrence that people can understand, but keep in mind this is just an analogy and it does not describe how Facebook handles privacy.  

The idea is to think about how you would behave if you were at a dinner party with close friends, and a specific political or hot topic was brought up.  You might feel comfortable enough to express your opinion even if it differed from the rest of the people at the dinner, because they are your close friends, and you do not mind sharing your opinions, say about how you really feel about a specific company, with everyone.  

Now imagine you are sitting at another table the next day, this time, instead of your close friends, you are having a work dinner, and one person at the table works for the company that you were bashing the previous night.  We are all accustomed to how privacy works here, and we understand that what we said last night is protected in some way from this table, and tonight, you might not mention your opinions, because you know it might risk the relationship that your company has with their company.  It's important to note that in this analogy,  your opinion of the company does impact the work that your doing for that company in any way, but if he were to find out about it, your company might lose the business anyway.

This is all very well understood in the real world, but what about on Facebook?  Let's say a friend posted something about the BP oil spill, and you commented or 'liked' it.  Maybe he posted that the BP oil spill was a terrible thing, and he felt BP should be forced to close for what they had allowed to happen.  Now that you have commented, or 'liked' the post, your have, in effect made that opinion your own (even if you only agree with it in a small way.)  Let's further assume, another friend of his, comments on the post, or re-shares it, and finally let's assume they have a friend at BP, whom you work with, and now they read your comment, and the original comment.

This could easily lead to your company being affected by 'your' opinion.  And this is not clear to many Facebook users.  Your opinion travels, and becomes more public as it does, and unlike the dinner party, where a person at the table could share your opinion with that co-worker if that wanted to harm your relationship, on Facebook the information travels without any specific intent to share it. More people are just agreeing with the comment, they are not actually trying to share your opinion with more people, it's just how it works.  Also, unlike the dinner conversation, the online message is much easier to take out of context.  Just because you liked what someone posted, does not mean you want BP to be shut down. 

Privacy is changing

Recent events in Arizona, and all over the country  have made it clear that many more people today, are willing to share how they feel about controversial subjects in public.  Although some laws in the United States prevent people from photographing protests (Handschu Agreement), the laws do not prevent news coverage, nor do they prevent people from walking by and viewing the protesters.

People may still feel that they will not be singled out for sharing their opinions in public, or that this particular opinion shared at this particular venue will affect their lives OUTSIDE that venue, but is that really why they are willing to join the protests?   It may be that people are starting to feel that the topics are too important not to join the action, but it may also be because people feel their opinions are important, and they want them to be heard.
Stop sharing your opinion?

Quit Facebook, or quit being afraid of the opinions you share reaching people you hope it won't.  In my opinion it would be better, if we could all express our opinions, online and in real life, without fear of the wrong person finding out.  I am starting to think about a time where we share how we feel, and we all come to realize that it is normal for us to have friends and co-workers with opinions about topics that directly impact us, that do not align to how we feel, and that this is not a reason to discriminate or hate them.  This is how it actually is, we just don't talk about it.

Don't get me wrong, I do understand that this is a bit naive, but small steps in the right direction would be better for everyone.  Also understand that Facebook has more privacy issues then just opinion sharing, but if your quitting to hide your opinions, maybe it's time to just let the world know how you really feel.  Just don't tell everyone you're mad at BP.

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