Social Media Privacy – The Power Is In Your Hands

Social Media Privacy Ethics JournalismThis week continues the debate on social media and privacy. It’s surprising to me that 13 million people are completely unaware of their Facebook privacy settings. If you’re going to maintain social media profiles, it’s important that you’re aware of who can see the information that you’re posting. I try to check in with my Facebook privacy settings somewhat regularly because the network is constantly evolving. In fact, I just adjusted my privacy settings on the network today.

Even though I’m well aware of the privacy settings of the social networks that I maintain, it seems as though I may be in the minority. We were asked what the social networks could do to help more users to understand their own level of control over their information, but I wonder if that’s even their job. It’s our information and reputations, shouldn’t we be the ones seeking out our privacy settings?

Sure it would be helpful for the networks to inform users how they can manage their privacy settings, but I don’t think that they’re doing anything ethically wrong by not going out of their way to insure that every user is aware of how much of their information is being seen by the world. They could highlight it in the terms and conditions when users are signing up for an account, but honestly, how many users are actually reading through the agreements that they sign? The power lies in the hands of the users.

Professor Norm Lewis raises some interesting questions about whether or not it’s ethical to approach potential interviewees on social media without identifying your intentions. Having served as an editor for a daily newspaper, I can see both sides of this issue. I know the pressures that exist in the newsroom when everyone is trying to break the next big story, but I can appreciate interviewees wishing to have privacy on their social media networks.

Social media definitely blurs the lines a bit of what is acceptable when approaching a potential interviewee. Is approaching a potential interviewee on Facebook or Twitter evasive? Yes. Is it unethical to approach them via social media or republish content from their social pages? No. It’s the social media user’s responsibility to understand their privacy settings. If they don’t want the world to see what they’re posting, they have the capability to limit who can see their post…better yet, they can choose not to post about certain events at all! If an event is truly private, I’m not going to blast about it on social media.

As a journalist, I’ve used social media to contact and research potential story leads or subject matters. If they have a provocative and useful quote on their page, that’s fair game. That being said, I also try to respect peoples’ privacy on social sites. If they have their page set to private, I’ll send them a message explaining who I am, and what my intentions are. It’s all about finding the right balance.

Social Media Terms and Conditions – The Small Print

I’m so connected to my computer and social media, when I login and see an updated user agreement or terms of services, I usually just scroll to the bottom of the page and click the “I accept” box. It doesn’t stop there, I recently signed a new lease and when handed a long document that the lady told me was “just your standard leasing agreement,” I signed the dotted line without reading all the terms and conditions. I could have signed my life away and I would have no clue!

This week’s lecture and readings reminded me a lot of the South Park iTunes agreement episode.

The problem with terms and conditions is that they’re just too long and usually contain jargon that’s hard to understand. It was a real struggle for me to make it all the way through the long list of terms and conditions, and there’s no way I would have read every word if it wasn’t for class! I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person, but when reading through Facebook and Twitter’s user agreements, I have to admit that I was confused.

I don’t know that there is any quick and easy solution to making terms and conditions completely user-friendly because the social networks have to include the legal jargon so they don’t get sued. However, I think that there are steps that could be taken to ensure that social media users are actually reading the terms that they’re agreeing to.

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When reading through Facebook and Twitter’s terms and conditions, I liked that Twitter highlighted and summarized information in terms that everyone could understand (above). Organizing terms of service in this manner would help ensure that even if users didn’t read every single word, they would at least understand what they were agreeing to. I doubt that either network would legally be able to summarize all terms and conditions in this way, but I’m guessing it would increase what was actually read.

In Facebook’s terms and conditions this is a lot of emphasis put on “You,” as opposed to the company. As unfair as this may seem, you are the one who is using Facebook’s services, so you have to be responsible for how you use the network.

Some of the areas that I think need to be included in the terms and conditions of the social networks are user rights, privacy, how the site will share/use user content, account security, and provisions applied to advertisements/businesses. All of these areas have some crossover with ethical issues. To highlight an ethical concern that I’ve heard a lot about lately, I think it’s beneficial that both networks emphasize the fact that it’s against the rules to request that a user give you their password or account information. This will prevent the unethical practice of businesses requesting the information of potential employees.