Today’s lesson is that no matter how you set your Facebook settings, someone else could reveal your membership in groups. Remember every day that anything you post in a social media space could eventually become public.
Say, for example, you are out-of-the-closet at college but your parents don’t know. You join a choir and the choir director announces your membership in a group whose very name announces your sexual orientation. The public announcement of your membership to all of your Facebook friends is the first thing your parents know of your previous secret.
That’s the very short version of the story in the Wall Street Journal – When the Most Personal Secrets Get Outed on Facebook.
You are not the customer
With Facebook in particular, you need to remember with every keystroke of every post that you are not the customer.
You are the product.
The entire Facebook model is based on selling information about you to advertisers. Their customers are advertisers, not you.
Why does this matter if your sexual orientation isn’t a secret?
So, is this an important issue if you are a married man and don’t mind telling the world you really like waking up next to your wife? Yes.
Does this matter to anyone other than people who haven’t yet revealed their orientation to parents? You bet.
It should matter to a lot of people.
Let’s say you work in Hollywood and think that Gov. Romney’s economic plans would be better for the country and your industry. Or you work in a conservative evangelical organization and believe President Obama’s position on gay marriage is more aligned with what you read in scriptures. Or you are pro-life or pro-choice in a church that firmly believes the bible instructs the opposite. You might not want to broadcast that very loudly. There’s a chance you might not like the results.
Or say you have any opinion on any aspect of reproductive issues if you work for Komen Race for the Cure. (That’s an inside-baseball joke – the Komen organization has gotten into an uncomfortable place where people on all sides of the abortion issue are quite offended by them.)
Life is complicated. We each move in many circles: work, professional organizations, charities, public organizations, kids sports, PTA, college, church, social organizations, alumni groups, places we want to work. With the wide diversity of opinions in all the places we move, there is a really, really good chance that your opinions will seriously offend someone in those groups. I have observed in life that all groups (yes every single one) have some ideas, opinions, and positions they just will not accept.
The very serious danger in social media is having things spill from one place into another when you really don’t want that to happen.
The two students interviewed in the Journal article are openly gay at college, but each had not gotten to the place where they could tell their parents. (I won’t mention the student’s names even though they gave interviews to the Journal that appeared on the front page.)
Each of them enjoyed singing and joined a choir, whose name was “Queer Chorus”. That’s their choice of name, not mine. The choir director used Facebook to coordinate rehearsals and performances. He asked who wasn’t in the group so they could be added and thus get the coordination messages. The two students indicated they were not in the group and would like to be included. The director added them.
This is where it gets messy. Apparently you can set your group to have membership info to be either public or private. The director chose public. Thus, when he added these two into the group membership, a wall post about them joining the group became immediately visible to all of their friends.
And then both moms and dads found out their child was gay by browsing Facebook.
Oops. Not quite the way you want to let your dad know what is really happening in your life. The Journal article indicates the relationship between each of the students and their parents has been quite strained since.
You can point blame in several directions, but that doesn’t matter. The students had news leak from one circle of their life to another with hurtful consequences. We could spend lots of pixels exploring that issue, but that isn’t the point.
Facebook will make some changes to maybe reduce the risk of something like this from recurring. The changes may even help. That isn’t even the point.
The lesson for all of us is that information we reveal through social media in one area of our life can spill over into other circles of our life in ways we cannot anticipate.
Use social media accordingly.