Saving People From Themselves: Privacy and Social Media

All Things Considered: http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2013/04/22/178424347/google-execs-talk-privacy-and-security-in-the-new-digital-age

The adverse impact of the internet and social media outlets on privacy is a common discussion topic (and not just in “All Things Considered” and other podcasts). A large portion of the public seems to blame people like Google executives or other figures like Mark Zuckerberg. In some cases (like Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen), responses from people who work at Google (etc.) sound a little defensive. Overall, it all ties into the fact that social media has removed so many people from their comfort zone. The underlying issue is the relationship between digital freedom and personal responsibility: whether or not companies like Google and Facebook should be in the business of “saving people from themselves”.

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My biggest concern about privacy and social media is this issue. I believe that people should use Google and Facebook responsibly, but my observations of user behavior have led me to conclude that this is impossible without providing all the necessary information. When I search for something on Google, I expect to see ads for related content on other websites based on my browsing behavior. It seems benevolent and (somewhat) benign. I would, however, be shocked to discover that friends and other people in my life also have access to this information. I like the personalized experience but hate the feeling of being watched.

The episode of “All Things Considered” was definitely a revelation for me. To what extent is my expectation of having privacy a product of my privileged-western existence? If I were living in a less free society (like Saudi Arabia), I would never have this expectation. I am, like many others, accustomed to being able to say (for the most part) whatever I want without being thrown in jail. It never occurred to me that I might be invading my own privacy by providing information.

The only solution seems to be keeping users informed. Upon signing up for a new social media outlet, I often confront a dense “Terms of Usage” agreement or similar document that I don’t bother to study as hard as I should. I’m sure I’m not the only one guilty of this. Companies like Google and Facebook have a responsibility to make sure the users understand the specifics of how their products work in layman’s terms.  The user also needs to do their part in making sure they know what they’re doing.

Maybe an introductory cartoon? A captivating info-graphic? Something else that’s entertaining and explains things well?

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5 Problems with Social Media

I’m sure I can speak for many people when I say I have mixed feelings about these problems with social media. The ability to share anything requires a lot of personal responsibility. In a nutshell, people do not exercise their best judgement when posting something on Facebook or Twitter which often “destroys relationships”, “creates triggers”, or something even worse. Despite these issues, I am aware that there are many people who exercise control with their social media presence. These people share only appropriate things and possess a strong understanding of the consequences of oversharing.

In order to address the issues that “oversharing” poses, I have been keeping my social media presence very compartmentalized. For instance, I only use Facebook for personal material. I have a “no coworker” policy when it comes to “friending” people and am still cautious about what I share. For this course and my other professional activities, I use LinkedIn. I only have a small amount of overlap between my “friends” and my “connections”, but I need to keep a clear dividing line between business and personal. If not, I fear that I will overshare.

The observations in “Response B” definitely ring true for me. After reading this, I was immediately reminded of Louis C.K.’s views on cellphones: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/louis-ck-cell-phones_us_56043b77e4b08820d91c0661

My views on social media are not completely in line with the views presented by Louis C.K., but I see where he (and the author of “Response B”) are coming from. More specifically, I think that overuse (every second, or close) of social media causes an inability to be in the present with your thoughts as well as extreme difficulty with being alone. When seeing friends post the happy aspects of their lives, it makes one jealous, unhappy, and yearn for social acceptance.
Despite these problems, I intend to use my work to illustrate that social media can be a very effective tool and positive force when used properly. Instead of spending every free moment online, I devote specific blocks of my schedule to my social media assignments and projects. I only check Facebook once every hour or so and am reluctant to incorporate more outlets unless I see enormous benefit.
I think I will write about the merits of keeping your online presence compartmentalized.