Why There is No Such Thing As “Privacy” On Social Networks

gossip telling secret

Yesterday news broke that Randi Zuckerberg, former Marketing Director at Facebook mistakenly posted a family photo (reacting to the new “Poke” app on Facebook) to her subscriber feed. She thought the photo was only for the eyes of her close friends and family groups in her Facebook feed, but with the confusing privacy settings it leaked onto her public profile. When a Randi Zuckerberg subscriber, Callie Schweitzer posted the photo on Twitter, Zuckerberg tweeted:

When the subject of online privacy in social media comes up, the offenders and the pedantic cry out, “You should have read the Terms of Service!” or “You should have stayed informed about the most recent the privacy settings!” But when even the closest to the top can't even keep things straight, what's that say about the rest of us who have better things to do all day than brush up on Legalese? Or incessantly check up on what's changed in our privacy settings?

It's a Brave Old World

It's easy to feel ownership over your social media profiles, after all, we have followers, we grow traffic and influence from the work put into social media, but the truth is, the old saying “There's no such thing as a free lunch” applies even in the newest of technology.  When it comes to using sites for free, users have little power over what ultimately happens with the website. We all learned this a nine days ago with the Instagram PR kerfuffle when they tried to open our Instagram content up for monetization by changing the terms of use to include selling our ‘grams without permission. They may have changed back temporarily, but history has shown a continued course of privacy stripping in social media and it's hard to believe it won't be long until something like this happens again.

The truth is, “privacy” has never changed, even in the digital world. Perhaps we've become too loose with what defines a “friend” now that it's possible to “Friend” someone with the click of a button. When it comes to private information, how close does one have to be to share an ATM pin code, or private moments with loved ones? Or what I really think about my mother in law? Perhaps now, more than ever, privacy should be handled, privately. Shared behind closed doors and quiet voices, with people who truly have earned real trust.

Can Public People Have Private Lives Online?

As bloggers, sending mixed messages to readers, “Look at me, look at me, look at me” then “Don't look at me here” can lead to confusion, hurt feelings and several branding issues, maybe even PR mistakes like Randi Zuckerberg's. In this day and age, it doesn't take great detective skills for fans to find bloggers. Many bloggers have expressed how quickly the lines between personal and public get blurred in social media. Especially on Facebook. Real friends want to keep in touch, but then blogger friends start getting in touch, then fans and so on. Especially for those of us who started before the Facebook Fan Page,  it was difficult to choose between using Facebook for personal or professional use, leaving our friends list overly complicated on top of an overly confusing Privacy Policy. It's best to treat all information that goes on social media sites as though it were left on a telephone pole on the street (hopefully a well-placed telephone pole that promotes your blog).

Social Networks are wonderfully fun tools that have helped a lot of people make careers and build audiences. But make no mistake, there is no such thing as privacy for anyone in this space.

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13 Responses

  1. Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie

    Such an interesting, and confusing, topic. I agree wholeheartedly with the comment that you should just think first before sharing/reposting/publicizing something that doesn’t belong to you. Manners people!!!

  2. Lisa D.

    This is an issue I’ve struggled with internally for a long time. I was a (somewhat) early adopter of social media — I began blogging on LiveJournal in 2003. Back then, before MySpace and Facebook (and when I was 22, just out of college, and trying to find my way in the world), my LJ was a place where I wrote funny stories about my day, kept in touch with friends, and fell in love with blogging. Nine years later, I’ve merged that blog over to WordPress, and I’m still using it, but I sometimes wonder if I should go back and password-protect some of my old content that doesn’t quite fit in with what my blog is now. Because like you said, it’s not hard to dig up information, and things I wrote at 22 when no one I didn’t know in real life was reading could definitely be misconstrued by anyone who didn’t know me in person back then. On the other hand, I’m proud of my blog’s history, and it’s part of what makes it unique. So I’m always torn about which way to go…delete old stuff, make a new blog, write a funny disclaimer… =) Any ideas for dealing with a situation like that?

    • Jennine Jacob

      Oh my goodness! I have deleted my first few blogs… just for that reason, I did not want people to see some of my old musings because it wasn’t “on-brand” even though I still am interested in pretty much the same stuff.
      Either way I think the question will come up more and more as people establish more elaborate histories online.

      • Barbara

        I actually did not delete my old blog content even though it wasn’t and still isn’t ‘on brand’. For me it is a case of – this is where I was before I discovered myself & this is where I am now.
        On the privacy issue, I really don’t know as nothing can really be done about it especially for we bloggers who continually churn out content. IMO, it is better to offer up a little of your personal life than hold back and let the public determine what it is by the content they see.
        Lagos, Nigeria

  3. Kholá

    Facebook CONSTANTLY changes its settings and its very difficult to keep up. Even if you have previously made your settings ‘Friends Only’, when those changes take place, I’ve found the settings revert back to ‘Public.’

    I personally feel the settings should stay at whatever the users sets them until *they* change it. I think FB changes them so their affiliates can track users better. And that’s like having an online stalker!

    • Jennine Jacob

      So true! My mother-in-law constantly makes comments on my page, so I’ve blocked her from seeing them several times, but she keeps being able to access my page. So, I give up.

  4. Stella

    It is not true that there is no privacy on social sites. We can change security preferences according to our need.

    • Jennine Jacob

      That’s true, but what happens when the privacy settings become so confusing that even the top social media people can’t keep it straight (like in the case of Randi Zuckerberg)? To be honest, I don’t really have the time to stay on top of privacy settings, every one I’ve set gets unset when they change their policy.

  5. Nathalie F.

    I wouldn’t want future employers to see my blog, so it’s not linked to my full name or any other identifying information besides the fact that I live in Miami. I haven’t made a Facebook page for my blog because of the same reason. I also don’t want my own “friends” to see that I have a blog. It’s sort of my own personal secret. Only a few close friends and family know about it. My blog is something I created for me, and I don’t need anyone I know (or will know) getting the wrong impression of who I am (e.g., superficial, obsessed with clothes, high-maintenance) and what that will mean for my future (e.g., potential employer not interviewing or hiring me).


  6. Pleaser Shoes

    As soon as you upload anything to the internet, expect that it is not private or won’t be private eventually..

  7. Peet

    Easy fix? Don’t start a Facebook/Twitter/… account. There are people who are able to exist without one.:)