What You Share Is Out There… For Everyone: The Social Media Privacy Report

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As online social sites continue to expand and dominate, the growing threat to online security increases along-side them. While most, if not all, social networking sites have privacy settings, they each have loopholes and dangers in their own way. A 2010 Security Report from Panda Labs found that Facebook and Twitter were the social networking sites most affected by security breaches in 2010. The study found that by using these sites, users put themselves at higher risks for viruses and violations of their private lives.

As the way the world consumes information changes, the threat increases as well. According to a recent article in Future of the Media, the percentage of people who receive their news and information via social networks is growing exponentially. Thus, everything that a user puts on these sites is in the public domain and can be seen by others. The aforementioned study states that the average Facebook user creates and shares 90 pieces of content every month. Sometimes the person you share a photo or status with is your cousin or your old high school friend.  But in other circumstances, what you tweet and disseminate on Facebook can be used against you. To illustrate the growing concern, let’s take a look at some real-life situations.

Social Media and the Law

What you say online can come to life in the courtroom.  According to a recent press release from the Injury Law Center – Law Offices of Jack Bloxham, there have been precedents in the courts that have allowed private comments and pictures posted via social networks sites to become discoverable evidence. For example, in Romano V. Steelcase Inc., in New York State, the injured party presented private Facebook and MySpace postings as evidence after the Suffolk County courts decided that these types of social media updates were “material necessary” to the case. It noted that social media networks enable people to share information about how they lead their lives and that users should not expect privacy on these websites even when they opt to have the tightest of security and privacy settings.

On the other side of the spectrum, The Houston Chronicle recently reported that Facebook profiles will be used during the jury selection process. In Cameron County, Texas the District Attorney’s office will allow prosecutors and defense attorneys to use iPads connected to the Internet during jury selection to look up potential jurors’ Facebook profiles. The article states that under regular circumstance lawyers only get a limited amount of information about each potential jury member during selection, but through the use of social media, they will have a more honest and personal look at who each person is. The hope is for a fair trial. However, the loss of privacy to the potential jurors is evident.

Social Media and Education

The numbers don’t lie; in the aforementioned article from Future of the Media it states that nearly 90% of millennials have a Facebook account. Many in this age group are students who are posting and sharing content, some of which might be deemed as inappropriate by an institution of higher learning.

In the International Business Times, it was reported that social media is prone to causing conflict in educational circles. The article highlights 22-year old Doyle Byrnes, a nursing student in her final year at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas. During a lab session she and three fellow students took pictures of themselves with a human placenta and posted them on Facebook. The college was furious and expelled Byrnes even though she removed the pictures that same day.

The story notes that other students across the globe have been reprimanded or kicked out of schools because of their Facebook activity. For example, even in India, sixteen students were suspended for posting rude comments about a female teacher online. The article concludes with a thought-provoking notion, “As the world adjusts to a new digital social reality and the line between ‘public’ and ‘private’ continues to get blurred, the debate over what constitutes permissible boundaries of disclosure on social media will continue to rage.”

Social Media and Work

A recent Vault survey of recruiters noted that nearly 75% of companies use social media, particularly Facebook, during the hiring process, according to cnbc.com. Of course, since most individuals do not use these networks for professional purposes, this could cause a problem. In fact, the article notes that when candidates were asked to rate how comfortable they felt being contacted by potential employers via Facebook the average was 2.59 out of 5. One candidate from the study said, “An email from an employer would scare me if it came on Facebook, because it means they might have seen something I didn’t intend for them to see.”

It appears that the information and data users put out there are fair game for all prying eyes to see. Your posts can be used in court, can get you kicked out of school and can even hinder or help your job seeking process. Does knowing how many people can see your private thoughts and feelings scare you away from social networking? Will you now think twice before tweeting something unflattering, revealing or unprofessional?

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Jillian Ryan

Jillian Ryan is PRIVATE WiFi's Director, Brand Communications and Social Strategy. With a passion for writing, the web, and fast-paced information exchanged via social networks, Jillian is also concerned about the ramifications of putting your life details and personal data into cyberspace. Follow her on Twitter: @Writing_Jillian.