Participation and Privacy in Social Media

In 2004, my job included scanning for interesting sites on the internet.  I viewed clips on Myspace, Bebo and YouTube, few of which were limited to official “friends.”   Some were amusing, a few were skilled performances of music, but most were boring.  Facebook was limited to college students and I refused to fake eligibility

Today, only YouTube and Facebook thrive.  Searching for interesting sites would be an over-loaded work assignment as social media has exploded into many themes.  Based on April 2012 the share of visits to friend-communications sites are — Facebook (55%), YouTube (15%), Twitter (1.5%), Google+ (1%), YahooAnswer (0.8%), and Pinterest (0.8%).  The main other categories are — group shopping, business networking, gaming, dating and photo sharing.  Notably absent is a sports-social media site, but that’s coming.

The almost one billion consumers who use Facebook have differing behavior patterns.  Some Facebook subscribers don’t complete their profile and don’t read their news feed regularly.  But some active participants post multiple entries daily and respond to others’ posts.  Many limit their posts only for “friends” access but with the typical 50-200 “friends,” posts are not suited for intimate communications.  Active participants seem to pursue these goals:       

  • Promote fellowship:  calling for others to join in sports or entertainment events, or to note a news or family event, or aspect of raising children or travel;
  • Pose as leader:  by promoting a political stance or cause, or by summoning friends to a project or civic meeting; or,
  • Promote commercial activity: by encouraging friends to “like” or buy some commercial item.

A few posts are interesting comments.  Some are a copy-and-paste of talking points from “campaign-central” or a favorite artist.  Many responses are a click of the “like” button – a lazy response that Facebook over-rewards by mentioning your name.

These semi-public posts on Facebook should carry little expectation for tight privacy.  On Facebook, privacy is conditioned on trustworthiness of your chosen “friends,” Facebook’s honoring its privacy policy, and degenerate/criminal behavior such as would-be employers demanding passwords.  The main source of privacy disappointments will come from consumers’ failure to read Facebook’s privacy policy and guide on how to adjust privacy controls.  But the best privacy policy is to be careful what you post.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who lives in Colorado and follows public policy issues from a consumer’s perspective. 

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