Why it’s a bad idea to post your party pics on facebook, or anything else incriminating on the web for that matter
Although it may not seem like a big deal when those party pics of you first got posted on the web back in university, it could definitely turn into something more consequential in the future. The bitter truth of the internet is that anything posted on there can be traced. So if there are photos out there on facebook of you maybe doing drugs, or streaking, or making out with someone you shouldn’t be making out with, a lot of possible examples could come up, then there’s a good chance people will view them. If they are quite provocative or way out there, then there might be A LOT of people viewing them, potentially in the thousands.
You might think you’re safe because on facebook, only your friends can view what is posted by you, or about you, this alone creates a massive network. Say you have 500 friends on facebook (which is a very common) and you post some photos. If they are really interesting photos, then you might get quite a few comments on them from your friends. When a lot of comments are attached to photos, they show up on ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS’ NEWS FEEDS. This is because Facebook’s program works so that the more response a new posted item gets from others, the more news feeds it shows up on. When your friends are doing their everyday facebook creep, they might be hanging out with some of their own friends and feel like sharing whatever interesting photos they see on the site. So already the number of people viewing your photos can get into the thousands without too much effort.
This number is relatively low compared to the potential when facebook users don’t know how the privacy settings work, and a majority of people are not computer literate enough to realize how to limit their privacy settings to the outer facebook community. When the privacy settings are set to the absolute tightest, the above scenario is likely to occur, Only Friends can view. but when the second level is chosen, Friends of Friends can view, you’re looking at potentially tens of thousands of people viewing your information, because if you have 500 hundred facebook friends, there’s a good chance they have a few hundred friends with connections in different social circles than your own. Then the next level is Friends and Networks, as an example, I went to 2 universities, and each one of those networks has a membership of around 40,000 people, then my high school network has membership in the thousands, and of course my regional network (Calgary, AB) has around 100,000 members. So the potential viewing of my posts could be upwards of 100,000. And finally, there is the ultimate in leaking of personal information on facebook, letting everyone be able to see your stuff. Current estimates of the total facebook membership is 400 million worldwide. Everyone is the default setting.
Although it’s clearly unlikely that everyone on the planet will view your photos, you’d be surprised how widely and quickly something interesting can be spread over the web. Look at how many YouTube videos receive over 1 million views, and this can quite often occur in the first week it is posted.
Privacy Settings for everything on your account can be adjusted as below:
- Only Friends
- Friends of Friends
- Friends and Networks
The way to access this control (as of 2010) is go to Account (top right corner) à Privacy Settings and adjust as you see fit. I strongly recommend using Only Friends for basically all of your information.
You may be thinking ‘why is it such a big deal that so many people can view what I post, or what others post about me.’ Well I will draw up a couple very common scenarios for you.
The first is when you fire off your resume to a potential employer. These days, especially when hiring people in their 20’s, if an employer is considering hiring someone, one of the first things they do after looking at the resume is they type that person’s name into the internet. So, again, if your profile pic on facebook is of you taking a bong hit, you will not get that job, in fact they may put a comment on your file at that company to say don’t ever hire this person. On top of that, if that used to be your profile pic and you deleted it entirely, you might be out of luck. There are mechanisms out there that companies have developed that can store the entirety of the web onto a server at any given moment in history and basically freeze the internet in time until someone wants to check it out later.
Another scenario, you get drunk on a night out and make out with either a) some skanky girl and your wife/girlfriend easily finds out or b) with someone else’s skanky wife/girlfriend and you later get a knuckle sandwich from said chick’s guy. These situations are so common it is incredible, because unless you live in an extremely large city, there is only about 2 or 3 degrees of separation between you and most people in your approximate age group in your city (as in you know a guy who knows that guy), and because most young people are now on facebook, if one person out there posts a scandalous photo of you, chances are it will get noticed. And if you think you can get that person to delete it in time, then you might be out of luck, because when photos are posted, the most views happen in the first couple of hours that they are online.
Another privacy concern is in the fine print of facebook’s disclaimer: “We may share your information with third parties, including responsible companies with which we have a relationship.” This is relevant to my friends because one summer back from university when we were camping, a friend of mine posted a video of my friends doing random stupid things onto his facebook account. Within two days someone from ebaumsworld.com, a popular comedy website, posted it on their own website. This video, which was actually pretty average in entertainment value, had views totalling 30,000 within 3 days. However this video was acquired by ebaumsworld is irrelevant, the important point is how easily it can be leaked.
The Canadian Privacy Commision has requested to Facebook in July 2009 to revaluate the privacy policies for their users. This is a step in the right direction; however, law takes a really long time to adjust to a quickly changing society. So the best thing you can know is take as many precautions as possible to protect your personal information, as well whenever you’re about to do something that may be incriminated to your reputation, bear in mind how easily information can be leaked.
Information set to “everyone” is publicly available information, just like your name, profile picture, and connections. Such information may, for example, be accessed by everyone on the Internet (including people not logged into Facebook), be indexed by third party search engines, and be imported, exported, distributed, and redistributed by us and others without privacy limitations. Such information may also be associated with you, including your name and profile picture, even outside of Facebook, such as on public search engines and when you visit other sites on the internet. The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.” You can review and change the default settings in your privacy settings. If you delete “everyone” content that you posted on Facebook, we will remove it from your Facebook profile, but have no control over its use outside of Facebook.
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