I find all of the brouhaha about the recent Facebook “smear campaign” related to Google Social Networks to be a real tempest in a teapot. As a communications professional I get that they violated the standards and ethics of our profession by not being open about the fact that the hired PR firm Burson Marsteller to court any news media who cared about the potential dangers of Google manipulating your whims and desires. Like knowing you were searching for the best restaurants in San Francisco and could be co-opted by a biased recommendation from a friend or a friend of a friend on your social network.
But let’s get real. Crying foul about privacy violations when you wade into the social media waters is like complaining that you agreed to be on a reality TV show and they tried to exploit you and make you look silly. “I’m really a Rhodes Scholar who spends my weekends as a volunteer working with senior citizens and whose hobbies include solving complex mathematical problems and growing vegetables in our neighborhood victory garden. I hardly ever get drunk in hot tubs and flash my privates on camera for all of the world to see.”
Consciously or subconsciously when an individual, a business or an organization becomes engaged with Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Google Social Networks, etc. they are saying “let me tell you something about myself , what I do, what I care about.”
Some think privacy is “over.” Mark Zuckerberg, who clearly has a dog in the race, agrees. Others think it is Orwellian and that the smartest thing to do to protect ourselves and our families would be to erase our tracks and our far too public personas.
I have mixed feelings about it. I have to admit as a PR professional I enjoy the fact that, like it or not, most people and organizations are pretty open books these days. And one of the tenets of our profession is that transparency is the way to go. So never has there been more power in advising a client who is reluctant to disclose the facts “you have to be straight up because there are no secrets today. Like it or not the truth will come to light.”
The flip side is that the errors in judgement that all of us as humans make (and to which young people are particularly but not exclusively vulnerable) are there for the world to see forever. If our friends or business associates have the bad judgement to post and tag photos we would have never posted ourselves there isn’t much we can do about it. At least not right away. And horror stories about how children have the potential victimized by social media predators make me sick.
However for us adults it’s another story. Which makes me think a great social media tool would be the Qualifier App enabling you to annotate ill advised posts: “I had a fight with my spouse, somebody hit my car, the elevator got stuck and the coffee machine was broken. That’s why I shared the Jack Nicholson chicken salad sandwich clip with my extended network.”
All of which begs the question: If you actively engage and participate in social networks do you have the right to be shocked, really shocked that you have given up some of your privacy?