Sunday, January 31, 2010

Publically Private

As a twenty-three year old grad student, I am stereotypically supposed to understand all social media and use it constantly. I'm supposed to log onto Facebook, Twitter, or one of the other numerous social media outlets to give everyone updates on my life. From what I ate with my morning protein bar to how I feel about aiding Haiti, my life is supposed to be an open book. In fact, users who never post anything are generally considered to be pretty boring. However, how many social media users have stopped to consider who is reading that very open and public book?

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, a large percentage of adults are in danger of identity theft or burglary due to overexposure on social media sites. Two examples from my own Facebook friends reveal a disturbing trend:

Anonymous Friend 1: "going to see my brother, then Candice! then out for an epic night in Charlotte."

Anonymous Friend 2: "will be landed in Vermont in 3wks to the day."

Benny Evangelista, of the Chronicle, suggests that "if [social media users] post updates from a trip, that tells thieves that no one is watching your house." More shockingly, fourteen percent of adults give their home address away on their social media profiles. Even though the popular site Facebook now allows its members to firmly manage who can see what information, the Federal Trade Commisssion is still investigating the site for its privacy controls. The article below from CNN focuses on children, but also describes what Facebook has done to improve privacy:

The creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg himself, could be prompting this trend. His Facebook profile has low privacy settings and shares events he will attend as well as personal pictures to the masses. As one savvy blogger on emphasizes "if everyone followed Zuckerberg's lead Facebook would be a great place for finding stalkers rather than finding friends." Elizabeth Fish's blog about Zuckerberg is linked below:

So what does this mean for my generation? Well, we can learn to value our privacy. We have become open books. Employers, professors, even strangers can find out a little too much about us. Whatever happened to a bit of mystery? Does everyone on your social media site really need to know your street number? I don't know many people my age who would consider giving this information to a stranger on the street, so I struggle to understand why we feel the need to do so online. The self-esteem movement may have created this need to extol ourselves online but common sense should eradicate the need to over share.

I think we feel a mental block of communication when we sit down in front of the computer screen. We feel like we are typing only for ourselves, but that is obviously wrong; in just one click, information is disseminated for all to see. Whether this information comes back to bite us in the form of burglary or rejection by employers is unknown, but it can have detrimental results. After reading this news article, I did a little self-examining of my own. Did I need to tag those photos of a girl's night out? Did I really need to give the location of my office? Just how private is my profile and how can I control what others see? A cursory overview of your own privacy settings could eliminate future hassle.

This YouTube video features shocking news stories as proof of what can happen when we over share information online:

To end on a lighter note, remember Anonymous Friend 2 who was going to Vermont? She ended with a warning:

Anonymous Friend 2: "By the way, if anyone gets the brite[sic] idea to break into my house, my husband is home and is very trigger-happy."

Talk about over sharing.


  1. Thanks for bringing this up! I read a similar article recently about Facebook-related burglaries in Venezuela, and actually deleted some pictures from my trip to Venezuela because it showed my family's electronics a little too clearly. I certainly didn't want to prompt a robbery!

    (I blogged about that here:

  2. You are absolutely right to advise caution. Your post reminded me of the time my wife and I were on a road trip, and we were passed on the interstate by a family in what had to be a $200,000 RV, complete with Jeep in tow and two motorcycles in a rack on the rear bumper.

    There was a sign on the back that said (name and address changed):
    The Jones Family
    600 Main Street
    Chicago, Il.

    The sign might as well have said, "we're rich people, and we're not home."