Personal v. Professional Use of Social Media

 The seemingly non-stop rise of social media has led us into a world where whether you like it or not, you have to develop your own personal social media use policy with regards to how you utilize services. 

By this I mean that you have to develop parameters in which you work and communicate through social media, on both a personal and a professional level. Some of my friends have no problem posting obscenities, rude or insulting statements and compromising photos. I attempt to stick to posting music video’s from YouTube, communicating and commenting with friends and supporting political issues – not to say that these things don’t sometimes go wrong as I have had to delete two “friends” over multiple abusive comments they have posted about politically related issues. As we have all heard before “Don’t feed the trolls”….

My opinion (and advice) is that no matter whether you are using social media for personal or professional reasons, keep in mind that everything is public and open to scrutiny. If you don’t want someone finding it, don’t post it, if you are not ready to deal with opposing comments, then don’t open yourself up for comments, if you don’t want people seeing a picture, then make it private or just don’t post it, if you don’t want to be found, then don’t “check in”.

The difficult part about this issue is balancing your use of Social Media from a professional perspective especially when you work at an agency that may demand extreme privacy (like a shelter for battered women), may be highly stigmatized (HIV Care or Addiction) or may focus on a oppreseed group of people (Homeless or transgendered). Any “sharing” of information could have disastrous consequences for your own job prospects or for your clients. The question is, how can you constructively use Social Media and promote the issues associated with your agency while at the same time protecting the safety, personal information and identities of your clients?

Is Privacy Possible?

Yes, privacy is possible – if you don’t get a Facebook page, don’t open a Twitter account, don’t comment on web pages, limit your e-mail and internet use and don’t create profiles or blogs. Two of my best friends live this way – granted, it’s tougher to contact them but they also understand that when they see my name pop up on their cell phone that I am not calling them to tell them about an awesome video I just saw on YouTube or to tell them that I am at a certain restaurant with friends – they know that I am contacting them for a real reason that means something to them. These friends are able to filter the information that they deal with down to the point where they avoid the “nonsense” of most Facebook posts (let’s face it, I really have no desire to see a picture of your cat and I am honestly amazed that you received 25 comments on the picture within the last hour – and one of them was from me! – true story, it happened last weekend).  

Marshal Kirkpatrick states that he does not “buy” Facebook’s excuse that they changed their privacy settings to reflect a change in social norms (found here). Yet Facebook’s newer technology of allowing people to “check in” has exploded in recent months. So let me get this straight, you are upset that the “pages” that you “like” can be seen by anyone yet you have no problem with the entire world knowing that you just “checked in” at a local strip club or that you are visiting your parents 3 states away and your house is empty or that you drank so much last night that you have the worst hangover ever…….? If you are relying on Facebook or other social media sites to act as an arbiter of personal responsibility, please don’t hold your breathe

On the other hand, Mike Gotta (found here) argues that “Only grudgingly will they (social networking providers) be transparent when it comes to options available to manage privacy settings” which I find to be 100% true as increased privacy works against their goal of getting users to “share” everything. Is this a good thing or bad thing? Think about it this way, you are an attorney, do you share your client list with other firms? No. Do you share your client list with other clients? Probably not. But, would you like other firms and your clients to share their client lists with you? Absolutely. Not only would you want them to share their lists you would also ask for a contact name and e-mail for every client that they referred you to. So, as an attorney, you would want total privacy of your own information yet you would love to have complete access to everyone else’s information – double edged sword right? From a social media user standpoint, would you use Facebook if it took you 5 minutes to find your friend? Nope. 3 minutes? Nope. 3 seconds – Yes, and that is why you use it. In other words, you want privacy but you want to have access to information concerning all of your friends, family and interests at your fingertips with no limitations…..

In the end, I do agree with the notion that social network providers are driving the messaging and notion that “Privacy is Dead” and that only people in certain demographic groups are concerned about privacy (found here) due to the fact they need to convince their masses of users to share as much as possible while limiting as little as possible. Are there ways that social media consumers can leverage their power as uses to ensure their own privacy? In my opinion, of course there are ways, but this complex issue will most likely only be addressed by providers when consumers stop using or limit the use of their product OR if providers find a way to remain profitable and relevant while maintaining high levels of privacy for their users.