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How to Avoid Getting Burned When Social Media Heats Up

Staying Safe On Social Media

Stay Cool, Calm and Collected as Social Media Heats Up: The Best Ways to Avoid Getting Burned

I was ten years old when my camp counselor explained how to boil a frog. He said that if you put a frog in a pot of lukewarm water and place it on the stove and slowly raise the temperature to boiling, the frog would not jump out. I remember wanting to test this theory with my cabin mates with that macabre desire for experimentation indicative of ten-year-old boys.

Looking at social media from a privacy standpoint, I now feel like I see this experiment in action every day. We’ve all become a bit frog-like in our reliance on social media and traded our privacy and legacy for simplicity’s sake—we’ve been placed in the pot, and we’re staying put even if it cooks us.

This article will look at how and why we are changing the way we digitally communicate, interact, and memorialize, and the effect this has on our privacy and the control we maintain over our digital selves. To do this, we will look at life before social media, why we’ve made a switch, and the implications of this switch. This article will explore how social media use went from lukewarm to boiling hot. I will also argue that this red-hot medium is altering our privacy standards. Maybe after reading this you’ll be willing to take a leap to save your identity.

Before social media, we had our contacts in an address book and made smaller groups if we wanted to mail a certain class of folks. We emailed our thoughts to these groups, and maybe attached a picture. It was a purposeful communication. Maybe if we were really sophisticated, we put our pictures on Picasa, or even had our own web page or blog. The pictures were on a server we could access and were probably also on our hard drive or back-up drive.

Then we were introduced to social media. It was fast and easy and required little to no thought. It appealed to our laziness. No more creating a web page and uploading with FTP. No more guilt when you realized you forgot to send the family vacation pictures to Aunt Helen but you sent them to Aunt Nancy. Just one click of a button and you could send things to everyone!

Social Media Icons

I was speaking with a hipster who even suggested that another reason to post via social media is for plausible deniability. They explained that posting something on Facebook isn’t like sending it to someone. It’s just “putting it out there.” If the recipient is offended, it’s their fault for reading it, or subscribing to your channel. It’s less real than addressing the post to a person, like with an email. Therefore you’re relieved of responsibility if you piss someone off. Seemed a stretch to me, but apparently it’s current mentality.

Now that social media has become one big melting pot—your address book, your web page, your communication, your storage, etc.—there are some implications that are being overlooked. The big implications are the 3 Ps: portability, permanence and privacy.

1. Portability -  There is no export function on Facebook or other social media sites. To lock you in, portability is curtailed. Can you imagine if MS Outlook didn’t let you export your address book or email to another format? How about if you couldn’t even see the email addresses of people in your address book? People would have a fit. I know plenty of folks who upload pictures to social media and delete them off of their computer after. Wonder if they’d ever like them back.

2. Permanence - Speaking of getting your pictures back…nothing is forever. Think your great-grandkids are going to log into your memorial Facebook account? Even if Facebook is still in use by the time you have great-grandkids, under Facebook’s current policy, they can’t access your memorial page if you’ve passed away and they weren’t your friends before you died. If you want to pass down your pictures and videos, social media sites aren’t the places to do that.

3. Privacy - Privacy is about control over one’s self. Your “self” is made up of so many parts: your identifying information, your thoughts, beliefs, how you look, who you know, what people say about you, what you say about them and more. There are times when “putting it out there” works just fine, and others when it doesn’t because it would reveal a part of your self to a group of people or in such a way that could be disadvantageous to you now or in the future. If you completely abandon the traditional tools and opt only for social media your control over your self and your privacy is diminished.

My recommendation is to use your social media but keep your contacts, mail and pictures where you can get to them any time you want. The trading of portability, permanence and privacy for simplicity and plausible deniability is a fool’s bargain.

The smartest frogs stick around to enjoy the hot tub, but know when it’s best to hop out onto land. Don’t be the frog that goes all-in and ends up getting cooked.

Related Reading: Examining The Security Impact of Social Technologies

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Gant Redmon, Esq., is General Counsel & Vice President of Business Development at Co3 Systems. Gant has practiced law for nineteen years; fifteen of those years as in-house counsel for security software companies. Prior to Co3, Gant was General Counsel of Arbor Networks. In 1997, he was appointed membership on the President Clinton’s Export Counsel Subcommittee on Encryption. He holds a Juris Doctorate degree from Wake Forest University School of Law and a BA from the University of Virginia, and is admitted to practice law in Virginia and Massachusetts. Gant also holds the CIPP/US certification.