Privacy: With or against the social media trend?

Facebook, Twitter and Linked In are just some of the new instruments that have been placed in the PR toolbox and changed the game a bit. Obviously, they are ways for people to manage different aspects of their reputation. However, one issue I have always thought about is how the nature of this social media world fits in with the concept of privacy.

Open communication and complete transparency are ideals in the PR field, but in our personal worlds, it is not always appreciated. (I know, you are thinking, “Definitely. I don’t want my boss seeing what I do on the weekends through Facebook pictures.)

As pointed out in an EndGame Public Relations’ blogpost by Steve Mullen, this exact worry can be seen in the argument with Facebook about who owns the posted material on the site. The company even altered its privacy settings to try to pacify the argument, which only angered people more.

Electronic Frontier Foundation even went so far as to accusingly say that “Although sold as a ‘privacy’ revamp, Facebook’s new changes are obviously intended to get people to open up even more of their Facebook data to the public.”

Some people do not think this is a problem. Louis Halpern and Roy Murphy have gone so far in their book, “Personal Reputation Management: Making the Internet Work for You,” to say, “Privacy is in the past. It’s gone. It’s history.”

Halpern and Murphy say, “In the internet age, your personal ‘brand’ or identity is never off duty.” They think that people simply need to present a positive and consistent message in all online forums and always show themselves in a good light to highlight the best aspects of their “brand.” (Sounds a bit like stereotypical PR, huh?)

After reading about an Internet marketing firm called DoubleClick, though, I am not so sure the way we utilize social media in both PR and our personal lives will always be so “open.”

DoubleClick became the point of concern for privacy on the Internet back in 2000. The company was tracking Web users by name and address as they moved from Website to Website, which led to lawsuits that were settled in 2002. According to Information Week, DoubleClick now has to explain on their Websites how they track and profile usage data of Web surfers.

As we all know, law is not the quickest to respond to new trends or to change existing precedents. (For an idea, see when the last time copyright law was altered.) Also, our 2,000-year old Constitution hardly foreshadowed the concept of something as far-reaching as the Internet, let alone the invention of it. So, it should be interesting to see what our courts one day decide for the fate of Internet privacy.

To add to that, with campaigns like Safer Internet Day 2010, gathering citizens’ support for  safer and more responsible use of online technology, how will “transparency” exist if strict Internet privacy laws are written? Could strict privacy laws not only apply to citizens but corporations and companies too? What would this mean for the world of PR?

Halpern and Murphy think that reputation management classes will be taught at schools and universities in the near future. According to Phillip Young’s “Mediations” blog, the  University of Sunderland (in the U.K.) already does.

But take a look at the Privacy & Data-Mining on the Internet Website, and you might wonder how such a trend of the “near future” will last or be useful if Internet privacy becomes a strictly protected right.

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11 Responses to Privacy: With or against the social media trend?

  1. kwashburn says:

    I think it is important that the public is cautious of their privacy, as well as other’s, but I also believe it is a cop-out to say that privacy is a ‘thing of the past’. The reason I say this is because if you honestly were that worried about your personal security/privacy and what other’s could possibly see about you or your personal life, you would not even be a part of or have social media websites. As far as Facebook pictures, I think it is smart to have a profile that is intended for friends that you are social with, and make this access only available to them and whoever else you want to share it with. Then, you can make a ‘professional’ profile as well, which can have unlimited access so that if potential hirers search you, they will not have a bad perception of who you are. I think all social media outlets are in our control and as long as we utilize that effort we can make privacy what we want it to be.

  2. tburns says:

    One thing to realize, though, is that people can view things like your Facebook profile, even if it is set on the strictest privacy settings. There are ways to get around it.

    (Case in point: My boyfriend is a computer science engineering major and is only a junior in college and cracked into my profile using some special program and code.)

    Not to mention, because there are no Internet privacy laws, if people find a way around your privacy settings, there are no laws to stop them. So, the idea of creating separate identities through different media outlets is wasted if people have the ability to see them anyway.

    Also, when you say that people who are worried about others seeing things they post should not be a part media sites, people have argued (again, with knowing that companies and businesses can see your profile if they really want to) that if they set the privacy settings on the strictest ones possible, they do that for a reason and do it so that only certain people can see their profile.

    This is why I feel like someone out there is going to try to bring such a privacy issue to the Supreme Court for something such as being denied a job after the company viewed their Facebook profile. (The person can say as long as his/her personal life isn’t affecting his/her professional life, and he/she is not doing anything illegal, the argument could potentially hold.) If “privacy” is the legal reasoning that supports abortion constitutionally, it wouldn’t be a jump for Facebook profiles set on the strictest setting to get the same privacy protection.

    I am not saying I necessarily agree with this, but after taking a law class with ASU, I can see how such a legal argument could be brought up in court someday. It just all depends on how the court would rule and set the precedent.

    • hbearat says:

      I agree with tburns that there will always be a way to get around privacy settings. It is crazy to think that someone in college is able to figure it out on their own time. If it is simple for him to do so who knows what kind of Information Technicians employers have to check up on potential job candidates or current employees. I have heard of individuals who have been fired due to something they have placed on their Facebook statuses. I think there are some things that are meant to be private from the rest of the world, but when you post anything on the internet i believe it is fair game to use it against you if need be. I have always kept my Facebook “grandparent friendly” so it was always frustrating when i would run across someone’s page that was screaming get me in trouble. I am glad social media has become a big part of PR because it is an easy and hip way to get information across to all age groups. However, there are its ups and downs and that is why individuals need to remember to keep both their professional and personal lives in mind when posting anything on the internet because no matter how private they make their accounts, there will always be a way to crack the system.

      PS: I just found out that there is no way to delete your Facebook account completely! Once you are on the internet, you are stuck on there for good.

      • jmetz says:

        I completely agree with Tara and Hyat. It is really scary to think that I can never completely delete my Myspace account from ten years ago. I heard once before that eventually Presidential Elections are going to come where a candidate is going to have a facebook page from their past that they could never delete.s

        Is this what our world has come to? We can not have any privacy with just our close friends to discuss what we did over the weekend. There is no escape from social media and what is happening around us. Google just came out with a new social media tool for Gmail, which I am sure is going to explode. It is frightening to think that you never know what employer is looking at your page as a decision of whether to higher you or not. With one search of your name on Google, your facebook page, twitter and many other information pops up. My suggestion is to keep your content clean, don’t post anything you wouldn’t want you grandma to see (Well, she is probably on facebook by now anyways).

  3. dsmith says:

    To say that privacy is a thing of the past is utterly ridiculous. I do agree though that the inventions of different social media outlets raise an important question about privacy in our society today. Instead of making two Facebook accounts– which Tara is right wouldn’t work since employers can access our sites no matter what our privacy settings are– why don’t we just use common sense about the things we put up? Don’t have any pictures or wall posts up that you would be embarrassed about an employer seeing. Even if you’re not looking to get a job anytime soon, why would you want revealing content on your wall for all to see anyways? To me it’s all about self control and as PR practitioners, we must be even more careful about what we are sending out to the masses. Whether we are blogging or tweeting on behalf of a company, client, or personal use, we must always exert caution and question the message we are sending out.

  4. cwilusz says:

    I think you raise a great point. With the social media craze that is going on right now I don’t think people realize how much of their privacy they are sacrificing to be part of facebook, twitter, myspace etc. But I also agree that people need to smarten up when using these social media sites. They need to go into it with the idea that their information will be shared for others to see. So they need to censor what they want people to know about them. If someone is looking to get employed I sure as hell would not have any pictures of crazy drinking or something that you would regret. I guess I just cringe when i see people put that kind of information to the public because I don’t think they realize how it could hurt them in the future.

  5. tburns says:

    I definitely see the point in making sure the things you put up on Facebook should be censored as cwilusz and dsmith said. Because companies, police, etc. can access our Facebook profiles and other social media accounts, we need to be aware of what we are putting out there.

    However, my point in posting this blog was to ask…what if the courts decided that if privacy settings were set to where nobody but friends could see your profile, and it was illegel for anyone to override such settings unless there is reason to suspect crime? How would social media change?

    Since there is no privacy Internet law yet doesn’t mean its allowed- all it means is nobody has brought a case far enough in the courts. So this could one day be possible.

    If people start becoming really private about social media sites, because laws are put in place at some point that allow them to be, what will it mean for PR? Will it be as useful as a tool if people start blocking out everyone not in their “circle” or “group” already?

    This is not so much an argument about what you should do right now to protect your online reputation; it’s obvious we need to watch what we put out there. This is asking what you think would happen if privacy laws come into play at some point? Will social media change or remain the same? Will it be for better or for worse for the PR world?

    • aguido says:

      If such privacy laws were enacted, I could definitely see it changing the way we operate social media sites. They would become plain and ordinary. Perhaps instructors would even be giving classes at school about how to make your social media pages “sell you” and make you seem like the proper candidate. The internet is just so hard to mandate, it is very easy to track your every move. I have heard that Google, for example, can store every search term you have used and track it to you–a bit scary, huh? It might get so sensitive to the point where people going out for the night don’t want cameras around them in case it ends up on facebook or something showing them acting silly or out of the norm in any way. It is really sad to think such actions could be in our future, but it may just be that way. It is extremely difficult to impose privacy rules on the internet, so people will just be extremely cautious of any evidence of a extra personality and that is very disheartening.

  6. alevy says:

    I think that privacy is very important among the online world and definitely not a thing of the past. There are obviously ways with new technology to get around this, but there are also ways to protect your online identity with privacy settings that you must be aware of to maintain. Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites show who you are and can sometimes make or break your reputation. I think it is important to remember what Halpern and Murphy said about your personal identity never being off duty in the internet age. With the progression of technology, once you are present online, you really never “go away” and people are still able to constantly search and find out things about you (if they want). I agree with the previous posts about merely not putting up things on the internet that you wouldn’t want future employers or even maybe your parents to see. It is a bittersweet world because online presence helps maintain connections and network among others as well as help people stay in touch. However, with the ability to “hack the system” and uncover profiles and other information, it really comes down to controlling our own content and using caution about what you want to relay to the public masses in the internet world.

  7. kmcnally says:

    Like all the others that commented, I see where they are coming from when they say that the social media sites that people have no idea how much of a lack of privacy they have when they have an account such as Facebook and Twitter. More and more employers are using these social media sites to find out a little more information about the person that could potentially be their next employee. My best advice is to monitor what people can see and what they can’t see. Their are ways to make things private so your boss or future employer don’t see what you did over your weekend, but it can only be censored so much, so i think that it is the duty of the person to be aware that these are possibilities and do everything they can to be proactive and prevent things like bad pictures or posts, or possibly even limit the amount of information you provide on these Web sites that way there isn’t a whole that they can see or find out.
    Also people just need to become more aware of the lack of privacy wrapped up in these social media sites before they begin digging themselves a whole.

  8. tburns says:

    I completely understand aguido’s point in saying that it might get to the point where people might be afraid to show “any extra personality” if privacy laws do not cover social media sites and that is disheartening.

    I understand the idea of presenting a good side of yourself on the Internet, and I do watch what pictures are posted and try to censor what is posted on my profile.

    However, just because I understand I need to do this and understand the reason why, it does not make it any less aggravating. This social site is for me, and my group of friends, not for companies and businesses to see. We all know we do not always act the same at work or in school as we do outside those environments with our friends and family. Take something as simple as telling a crude joke or swearing. Majority of people do stuff like that in their lives outside of their professional world.

    Which brings me to a thought: if privacy laws do not cover the Internet, I can see a lot of people shying away from Facebook and the like or completely putting on their “professional” face. It becomes formal, and it can kill the atmosphere it originally had. People might not be as drawn to it, and social media might take on a form not as useful for PR.

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