Is Facebook Evil? Or is Privacy our Responsibility?

Last night Tricia, Heather, and I attended a conference presented by the Social Media Club in St. Louis.  The speakers this week spoke about the good and evils of Facebook, and internet privacy issues in general.  The debate was pretty intense.

The first man who spoke began his part by saying that privacy has been dead for a long time, long before the recent Facebook privacy fiasco.  His main points were this and that Facebook is no different, and should not be treated as “evil,” that it is simply acting like every other site on the internet.  He also said that if you don’t want your privacy to be disturbed in such a large way, then don’t use the internet at all.  Basically, our privacy is our responsibility.  This would mean, however, no email, no web searches, no online shopping, no internet banking, all things that we have become used to as a convenience to us over the years. 

The second man who spoke argued another side, that Facebook truly is evil and that it’s invasion of our privacy is absurd.  To give a little background, recent changes in privacy settings on Facebook have caused a huge uproar among the general public and Social Media gurus.  There are now multiple areas that one has to set to “private” or “friends only” to make sure no one else can see one’s profile, there is no simple button that allows one to set an entire profile and all the information it contains, ie. gender, photos, hometown, and birthday, to private. 

Another big issue is that sites such as Pandora and Yelp now have Facebook “like” buttons on them, so that if you like a song, as long as you are already logged into Facebook, you push the button and it shows up on your page.  Sounds pretty great right?  That is what I, along with many other people, thought at first, until we realized it goes much deeper than that.  Just by ”liking” something on one of these sites, they can see your entire profile that is not set to private.  That’s right, your photos, your gender, your birthday, where you live, your other likes, everything besides your contact information that is not set to “private” is exposed.     

Combine this with the fact that setting these things on your profile to “private” is much more difficult these days, and it goes to show that the information about ourselves that we are putting on Facebook just for our friends to see, is being seen by the entire internet.  The second speaker said that this is not right and that this is not fair to those of us who intend Facebook as a way to connect with friends and do not want our information available to anyone who wants it. 

After learning this information, many people at the conference became extremely animated and intense, shouting out questions and opinions left and right, some more passionate about a simple Facebook issue than you would think.  Many seemed to be outraged that Facebook would do this to its users, but when asked if anyone would leave Facebook because of this, not a single person in the room raised their hand.

The thing is, Facebook is a convenience.  It makes communicating with friends and family easier than ever before, and no one is about to give that up, even if the loss of some privacy is the cost. 

My opinion?  Well, I am somewhere in the middle.  I believe that Facebook does not have the right to change privacy settings so they can basically “sell” our information to the world.  However, I went home immediately after this conference and checked on my settings.  I was quick to realize that, while it was a lot to go through and took some time, it was not as complicated as some people are making it out to be, and most of my settings had not changed much, if at all.  On the other hand, however, if I had not gone to this conference, I may never have learned about the changes and therefore would not have been able to change my own, which is not fair. 

In short, I believe that Facebook, along with the rest of the internet,  is a great tool, if you know how to use it correctly.  Just don’t put anything on the internet that you do not want shown to the world.  I certainly don’t. 

I spoke with my dad last night about the issue and he made a good point.  Being on the internet is like walking through the park at night, always be alert of your surroundings and who might be watching you.  I agree completely, but you need to remember that, unlike the park, you can’t just take a quick look around to see everyone who is watching you.  So be resbonsible, careful, play it safe, and if the thought “should I be putting this on the internet?” ever crosses your mind, then you probably should not.

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