Three requests I encountered this summer:
Scenario 1: Parents make a big purchase, and need to specifically instruct their children not to talk about it on Facebook.
Scenario 2: A baby is born, and the new parents ask that no one posts pictures of the baby before they do.
Scenario 3: A very private couple gets married, and guests are instructed not to tag or add photos on Facebook.
What’s the theme here? If you guessed Facebook, you win! In each of these scenarios, it had to be explicitly stated that being present at someone else’s event, or tangentially related to big news, didn’t give participants the right to share all the details. The frightening thing is that this needed to be explicitly stated, that without a disclaimer there would have been a Facebook free-for-all on other people’s private news.
I admit, I tend to keep Facebook at arm’s length. But it amazes me that by dint of simply sharing an experience, one person can unilaterally share details of another person’s life with hundreds of people, all at the click of a mouse. You can tag someone at a wedding, share pictures of another person’s child, announce big news, and it doesn’t just reach a few of your friends. It reaches everyone you’ve added on Facebook, so now your high school best friend’s brother’s cousin knows what your nephew looks like, possibly before his relatives do.
Granted, to a certain extent this has always been the case. Even before Facebook, pictures were exchanged, stories were told, letters were sent. But the difference was that each of those had a personal touch to them. It required interacting directly with someone else, and that meant pausing and thinking “Do I share this information?” Instead, it’s all too easy to not only share it, but spray it everywhere. And not enough people stop and think that’s a problem.
Unfortunately, Facebook has become such a de facto part of being social, especially if you’re tech savvy or young, that there’s almost no escaping it. However, it doesn’t mean you get to check common sense at the door. It shouldn’t require someone else reminding you of what’s okay and not okay to post on Facebook. It’s a tool, not a mandate. Forgetting that means you give up not only your own privacy but that of your friends as well, without their permission. It’s one thing to say “I had fun at XYZ event!” and another thing to tag photos and say “Person A, Person B, Person C and Person D were all having fun at XYZ event!” One shares your personal experience, the other shares on behalf of your friends. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, but as more employers, schools, etc troll Facebook for information it puts that much more of a burden on the taggee to be vigilant about where and when they’ve been noted on someone else’s Facebook page.
It’s funny, one of the enduring internet memes is to refer to big companies and governments as being similar to “1984″, with fears of Big Brother tracking our every move. But we don’t need to worry about Big Brother watching us through hidden cameras, we’re happily sharing not only our own lives but that of our friends constantly. At the rate “social networking” is going, Big Brother would just need to submit a friend request!