People today are as concerned about privacy and social media as they are dependent on the devices that enable the media. It is difficult to go anywhere and not see many people, in any setting at all, engaged with their phones. Some are having conversations, but others are using the devices for any number of other reasons: to pay bills, write emails, text, look up information, and visit social media pages. With regard to that media, many spend hours every day reading, posting, and generally sharing thoughts, images, and videos currently interesting them. Even as all this activity goes on, those doing it tend to worry about how protected their own information is, and how much of their personal information is safe from those not permitted to see it. All of this goes to a kind of vicious cycle in place, then. The social media is more popular than ever before, and users are complaining about how their access and information is being shared by the sites they visit. Very few are willing to give up their online activities, and they are equally worried about how the security of their privacy. Given the dependence of most people on the Internet and how new devices enable access from anywhere, it is likely that privacy will always be a major issue, and especially in regard to social media.
This is not as big an issue with other uses of the Internet. This itself is ironic, because most people feel safer when they engage in actual purchasing or paying bills than when they post on Facebook. When people go online with their smartphones or laptops to buy, sell, or pay bills, they generally have a sense of being secure. Banking and shopping sites learned years ago that the only way to keep a customer base is to be able to guarantee that information is private. Personal concerns aside, virtually all online users absolutely rely on their financial information as secure or they will not use the services. That sites like Amazon, eBay, and PayPal are so widely used then goes to how the providers take care of this need. Some are still worried that illegal access is possible and many take great precautions when spending money online, but it is today a generally accepted practice. At the same time, users are also usually careful about who can see what they are doing on their devices, so that no outsider can steal financial identification.
With social media, however, it is different. It seems that the same sense of trust in privacy protections led millions to join Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other popular sites, but there are increasing reports that the sites themselves are selling user information to merchants. This information may be only contact emails and preferences collected by sophisticated programs. Nonetheless, users are upset because they feel their privacy is being invaded and their trust is abused. They log onto Facebook, for example, thinking they are interacting only with a number of selected friends, and then they receive messages promoting various items. Facebook itself has been the subject of a large controversy in recent years. Users discovered that its terms of service allowed the site to share user information for commercial reasons, and millions have quit the site because of this. It does not matter that they can post whatever they like and share it with friends; what matters is that others are able to gain information they feel is very personal, as in shopping preferences. It also seems that many users are angry because they feel they have been taken advantage of, or exploited by a site that promised to respect them.
There are as well other issues of privacy and social media. Employers are increasingly concerned about employees making inappropriate, or even illegal, statements on their personal pages that have to do with their jobs. Civil employees like firefighters, police officers, and nurses have gotten into trouble for posting questionable images and posts, for example, and the courts struggle to determine where individual rights of expression end and employer authority begins in such sensitive situations. With other jobs, the issue is just as problematic. For instance, a hotel worker may believe they have the right to “joke” about the quality of guests, but it is also reasonable that the hotel has the right to protect its reputation from such negative reports. People “tweet” about a great job interview, the employer sees the message, and the person is denied the job because they went too far in promoting their success before the job was theirs. In these cases, then, the privacy problem with social media is expanded to become a commercial problem. Then, there is also the question of privacy as violated when users find their posts and messages taken up by “friends’ and sent elsewhere. This is no small matter because it goes to the basic processes of social media itself, and to deciding where control over any information actually belongs once it is presented on a page.
As noted, this main issue is ongoing and not likely to be resolved anytime soon. It is certainly understandable that many people would object to having any part of their information used or sold by a social media site, no matter what the terms of service they agree to say. There is an expectation of privacy simply through the fact that subscribers need to log on in a secure way. Then, there is no escaping the reality that the popular social media sites are centered on individual controls. Users are constantly asked about who they would like to accept as friends, and this clearly goes to with whom they are willing to share information. Other controls exist to secure content from specific groups, as well as to block unwanted contact. All of this clearly points to social media as providing security, even as the sites earn profits from selling user information, so user anger is understandable. At the same time, it is reasonable to argue that a great deal of the resentment is unjustified. In plain terms, it seems obvious that some sacrifice of privacy must occur whenever anyone goes online. It is right to expect that financial information be protected, but anything else is “fair game” in an Internet based on access for everyone. Ultimately, people must accept this responsibility. In today’s world, and right or wrong, entering into social media at all translates to a surrender of some privacy. This is a modern reality, and those most concerned with securing their privacy should consider how important the media is to them.