Self-exam of so­cial me­dia much needed


As the heads of ma­jor so­cial me­dia net­works tes­tify be­fore Congress, an in­sight­ful new sur­vey shows Amer­i­cans are re­think­ing their use of ser­vices like Face­book and Twit­ter.

More than half of re­spon­dents to a new Pew Re­search poll say they have ad­justed their Face­book pri­vacy set­tings to di­vulge less in­for­ma­tion, and 42 per­cent have taken a break from the so­cial me­dia net­work.

While we don’t take polling fig­ures as gospel, in this case we hope the trend lines hold.

On the sur­face it would ap­pear many Amer­i­cans, es­pe­cially younger ones, are per­fectly fine with trad­ing away any no­tion of pri­vacy in ex­change for free ser­vices. So­cial me­dia net­works have be­come the public square, the tele­phone, the tele­vi­sion — vi­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools. But we’re not con­vinced that most Face­book users re­al­ize ex­actly to what ex­tent and to whom they are ex­pos­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

As a dis­heart­en­ing num­ber of cy­ber breaches have shown, your data is not nec­es­sar­ily safe, so your use of these ser­vices is pred­i­cated on al­low­ing any­one — not just your friends and fam­ily — to cap­ture what­ever you post, what­ever you com­ment. Delet­ing a post or tweet doesn’t erase it from ex­is­tence — can you say “screen­shot?”

Closer to home, more and more we are see­ing the con­tents of peo­ple’s Face­book posts and tweets end­ing up in civil court.

Defama­tion suits based in part on so­cial me­dia posts are no longer a nov­elty, and when it comes to di­vorces and child-cus­tody dis­putes, so­cial me­dia posts can be fer­tile ter­ri­tory for a spouse try­ing to show in­fi­delity, ha­rass­ment or bad par­ent­ing.

Post­ing about the party you at­tended and the al­co­hol you con­sumed — while a child was in your car — or tak­ing public jabs at your soon-to-be ex are things judges now see in such cases as they try to de­cide if the par­ents are truly try­ing to be rea­son­able with one another or if one is goad­ing the other along, or worse, us­ing it as ha­rass­ment.

In the fu­ture and as we in­creas­ingly see the rise of bots that spout one (of­ten mis­lead­ing) po­lit­i­cal point of view, we need to be vig­i­lant and ev­er­more cau­tious about our usage of these ser­vices. We’ve said be­fore the “Wild West” fac­tor of so­cial me­dia may very well be what ul­ti­mately makes it less in­te­gral to us; al­ready we see peo­ple learn­ing they can’t be­lieve some­thing just be­cause they read it on Face­book.

Peo­ple want to see what the “real” me­dia has to say when “sto­ries” sur­face on so­cial me­dia like this one ear­lier this week: “Did the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can­cel an $80 mil­lion Nike con­tract” be­cause it be­lieves the com­pany “hates the countr y”? No, it didn’t; no such con­tract ex­isted.

While so­cial me­dia is a fab­ric of our lives now, that doesn’t mean users can’t de­mand change — es­pe­cially re­gard­ing who has ac­cess to this data.

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