We are constantly learning how to handle our relationships and privacy. Preschoolers eventually learn that they can’t blurt out every observation they make lest they reveal a surprise or offend someone. School aged children eventually learn that keeping a friend’s secret is more important than gossip. Adults wrestle with the ethics of keeping a confidence over revealing a truth. All of our struggles with privacy are hard enough when we’re just talking about the ethical issues of face-to-face communication. But now we’ve supplied an arsenal of communication tools to everyone with a computer and access to the Internet.
If we’re going to be armed to the teeth with tools of mass communication, let’s at least make sure our students, faculty, and staff are trained to use them, so we can minimize the collateral damage. Here’s some general advice I give to my colleagues:
1. Ask before posting.
As a courtesy, ask them for their permission before posting names, stories, images, videos, locations, contact information, or any part of a birth-date (including “happy birthday” posts) of people you know.
We tend to think of social media as tools for telling our stories, but we forget that most stories involve more than just ourselves. Every story has multiple perspectives. Something your friend does in a small group of people might not have been intended for a larger public audience. Something a student does now might not have been meant to be kept and shared for 20 years.
The worst part about social networking is that it allows a small group of vocal enthusiasts to get a disproportionate amount of followers compared to others. Simply being one of these voices with a lot of followers will increase the likelihood that your version of the story will become the accepted truth. Colleagues, friends, and family may not even have the opportunity to provide an alternate perspective because their followers are small or less active.
2. Remember that students, patients, and minor children are governed by privacy laws.
If you work with them, you should be familiar with the following:
- Students: FERPA
- Patients: HIPAA
- Minor Children: COPPA
3. Don’t sign yourself (or others) up for spam.
Free offers seldom are. Make sure you aren’t paying for a free Web app by spamming your friends.
4. Remember that social networks share information virally.
“Three can keep a secret if two of them are dead.”—Benjamin Franklin
Take responsibility for your privacy settings because they don’t just affect you. By friending you, your friends are trusting you with their information; are you keeping their confidence? Remember to periodically check privacy policies, terms of service, and end-user license agreements of any tool you use. These policies are subject to change. (If you are really interested in the Facebook particulars, check out the EFF’s timeline. Or if you want to see the Facebook Graph API shares about you with the world, check out https://zesty.ca/facebook)