When my 20-year-old son broke up with his girlfriend, the first thing both of them did was change their Facebook status. When people wanted to obtain a lot of signatures for a petition for financial aid for Sandy victims, they turned to social media and within 48 hours had over 10,000 signers. When President Obama needed financial backing, he turned to the Internet and gathered 3 million people who donated more than $500 million.
What do these seemingly disparate actions have in common? They all involve some type of online interaction. These interactions can be as simple as exchanging emails between two people. As we sit in front of our computers, we think of ourselves as being somewhat isolated, tethered to the world through some type of communication line. Yet, it is through this tether that our communication in real time with people all over the world becomes possible.
Social media is exactly what its title declares it to be: social. Because I’m sending an email to someone, there’s no reason to assume that it will remain private. Google, for example, stores every email that is sent via Gmail. It also keeps track of the selections of every Chrome browser user. To hide the size of its storage facilities, it even omits their images from being displayed on its satellite images. This content is also unregulated despite several numerous attempts by a number of parties.
Social media encourages people to be social — and to receive rewards for their actions. Facebook rewards consistent posters with a higher Edgerank. LinkedIn rewards consistent contributors by including them on frequent poster listings. (So far, these postings do not affect their search rankings, unlike Blogger.) The top of each Twitter page displays the number of followers, which unfortunately is very important to many people. (What should be more important to them is the ratio of followers to number of people followed. An industry leader should have at least a 4:1 ratio of followers to following.)
With all of this emphasis on being social, how can we assume that any privacy exists online? We shouldn’t, but yet, we do. We want to believe that when we send an email, only the party (or parties) that it is directed to will read it. Maybe we expect anonymity because of the billions of emails and posts that are made online every day. That occurs most of the time. However, these posts can also stand out. The employee who makes disparaging remarks online about his or her boss and company isn’t (usually) doing it to be fired or disciplined. They’re just talking or relating to others about their experiences. But it’s online – and not private, despite their wishes. Even being the director of the CIA does not mean you are immune to scrutiny. Anything online is fair game.
There are a growing number of monitoring programs designed to uncover sentiment across numerous social media sites. They track what people are saying and allow a company to rapidly respond. They also do not take into account any notions of privacy; they just seek relevant information.
So, social media privacy is really a misnomer. It doesn’t exist. It’s also why every company should require a social media policy that specifically tells employees and contractors what they can and cannot do. Remember the next time you send an email or post to a private group that despite your intentions, it can always be retrieved and viewed by others.
Bruce Newman is the president of wwWebevents.com, a division of The Productivity Institute L.L.C. in Carmel. He is a social media guru and a specialist on webinar creation and promotion. Newman is currently completing a comprehensive webinar training course, The Complete Webinar Training Course – Everything you need to know to create and promote highly successful webinars, which will soon be available. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.