It's not that I'm unsympathetic to complaints about Facebook privacy, or, actually, lack of privacy. I get it. Facebook felt like a private medium in the beginning, especially to the college students who gave it its sizzle. I don't like Mark Zuckerberg as Big Brother any more than I liked Richard Nixon or Dick Cheney as big brother. But there's an important difference: those big government bad guys were spying on unsuspecting citizens; in Facebook, you're publishing. If you reveal what you don't want to, you're the one who revealed it. Not just them.
The Internet is just not inherently private. You can make it private, I suppose, if you try, with enough encryption and technology and strain. But what you're typing on the keyboard into your computer is inherently data that's going to be transmitted through and to a lot of other computers.
My friend John Jantsch, the marketing guru and author of Duct Tape Marketing and The Referral Engine, sums it up very well in a recent post called Unchecked Privacy on the Web, writing about the recent Facebook privacy controversy:
But, here's the point that few seem to be grasping. The Internet is an inherently unprivate, unsafe, place. Why do people believe that a company that builds a service to make a profit and then gives it away for free is going to have our best interest at heart. Why in the world are people surprised that Facebook is making these moves. And most importantly why do we feel entitled to protection and privacy when the real issue is that people are sharing things they shouldn't share in this or perhaps any environment.
Note his point in the last sentence. This is why I keep going back to the word publishing. Even email, whether you and I like it or not, is publishing in the sense that your email message can be forwarded to infinity. Its recipient has it in text and can post it wherever, forward it, do whatever with it. Let alone Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn ... even the comments you post here on Huffington Post.
I've seen some horribly inappropriate postings on several social media sites. Like personal arguments, really dumb and offensive comments, outrageous stuff. As I see that happening, I'm thinking about how much that poor sucker is going to wish he didn't type that into his feed. Because once it's there, it's not just said, quietly; it's published.
I think we're all a bit confused on what happens with social media. Have you noticed how everybody likes the word authenticity, but they also like privacy? And stalking is bad, of course, but following (think Twitter) is good?
If you can't take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you don't want your boss to know you hate your job, then save that thought for when you're alone with your friends, say it, don't type it. If you don't want to get caught in a lie, don't tell the lie. Take the day off to go to the beach, don't say you're sick. Drunk or not, keep your clothes on at the party. I love Twitter myself, I dabble in Facebook, and tolerate LinkedIn. And all I'm saying is that I don't recommend posting stuff you won't want to live with later. Because you're publishing.
Authenticity is cool, sure; but it's very closely related to accountability. Sometimes hindsight is disastrous.
Follow Tim Berry on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Timberry