There is no privacy online. I guess that pretty plainly states a fact. But more and more often I have seen Facebook friends posting the hoax “privacy and copyright” notice which has been debunked by Snopes and others numerous times.
The whole purpose of Facebook is sharing. We share our lives, our thoughts, our images, our proudest moments and our most difficult emotional turmoil. For better or worse, we share our political opinions and we wear our religion on our very public sleeves (although I tend to steer clear of both of those topics most of the time.)
Let’s start with who sees my stuff online. For the most part, I am careful about who I “friend” on Facebook. I have some basic criteria around this:
- Do I know you? Are we really friends? Are we related?
- Have we ever been to each others homes? Worked in the same office? Participated in shared social or work events?
- Did we go to school together? Have we been neighbors?
- Do our kids know each other? Have we ever shared a meal together?
- Do we have a history?
If one or more of those items is true, then you are a real person who I really know. Even if our relationship now is mostly virtual due to time or space constraints, that doesn’t make you less of a friend to me. I do not make casual decisions to “friend” people on Facebook. I may have different criteria for LinkedIn. I consider that to be a place for business and professional connections. Just because we have a business connection, does not mean that we have a personal connection. These two platforms, Facebook and LinkedIn, do not necessarily cross pollinate in my connections lists. Blog posts are a different animal, and I recognize that anyone, anywhere, can read something I have written on my blog.
But let’s be honest, social media is designed to be social. Even introverts like me, maybe especially introverts like me, have a desire to connect with others in a variety of ways. By simple virtue of our humanity, we have some level of need to relate to other human beings. As for being an introvert, social media may be exactly the right way for me to connect. Let’s face it, the expectations and responsibilities are fairly easy to manage. I choose to share certain facts, photos, and events. Whether my social media friends respond to them or not is inconsequential. It is my personal choice to put myself out there. Of course, there are things I don’t share. Some news is not mine to tell, and some days are simply mundane. I don’t feel a need to tell my friends every bit of my routine every day.
When I do share little bits of life, it’s because I have considered my audience and determined that maybe I can bring some small amount of cheer or knowledge or emotion or caring to my friends. Maybe we can sympathize with one another as I let my friends know what’s going on in my life; my actual friends, since we have already established that none of you is strictly a virtual friend. So I share. I write these occasional blog posts, I post photos on Facebook and Instagram, and I post my reading lists on Goodreads. Whether you choose to read it or not is entirely up to you. Whether you enjoy it or agree with it or hate it or respond to it is up to you.
The truth is I am probably more social online than I am in person. In person, at first glance some might consider me to be unapproachable or stand-offish. I don’t think of myself that way, but throughout my life I have been shy, and much more at home in the world of books and alone time than in a crowded room. Over time and with a great deal of effort I have overcome some of my deepest fears and reluctance to socialize. I can stand in front of a podium with 500 people in the audience and make a speech, but getting to really know people up close and personal is still a little daunting. I genuinely like people, but still feel socially awkward sometimes and will always be a bit of a wallflower. Of course, once we really get to know one another all bets are off and you’ll find me to be more outgoing and even boisterous. But sharing my life online is frequently easier than sharing face to face.
I often crave privacy and time spent by myself. Privacy means I am not sharing every thought with every person, including my closest family. Privacy happens within the confines of my home or some other place where I am essentially alone and want to stay that way. If you want a strict privacy rule surrounding your thoughts, photos, and ideas, then don’t post them online.
So once you have established your online “friends” criteria, and set your app’s privacy settings where you want them, there’s one other rule of thumb for what to post. Ask yourself this question: if you were meeting your friends for coffee would you share the same information with them?
As for copyright law, here is the basic fact: “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” That language comes directly from the US Copyright Office. I hope that people would not flagrantly plagiarize anything I have written or used my photos without attributing them to me. As a person who has been writing for nearly her whole life, plagiarism, to me, is one of the most morally objectionable crimes I can think of. It cuts to the core of taking someone else’s thoughts and language, which are very personal. As a former journalist, I am a strong believer in attribution when you borrow someone else’s words. (Note: I am attributing by hyperlink in this post.)
Information is a powerful tool. I don’t believe that Facebook is stealing my photos or violating copyright laws, but invite you to read their data policies to get the complete lowdown. After you have read the policies, if you don’t like what they do and how they function, then cancel your Facebook account. But know this: privacy online is an oxymoron.