I was on a road trip once with my husband and as we were scanning the radio stations in some remote town in northern Ohio we kept landing on the same two stations: a talk radio program that I believe was Christian based and a country station. I was reluctant to listen to either but we ultimately chose to stay on the talk radio station (after conceding to the fact that there really wasn’t any other option) and I was glad that we did because the guest on the show said something that I considered very profound about social media “if you are not the consumer you are the product”. Basically, if you are not paying for a service, someone else is and they want their money’s worth. This statement had brilliantly summed up what I had been trying (and failing) to articulate for quite some time, your online life is not private despite all the privacy settings and user agreements you agree to; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like are all businesses interested in making money and they will sell your information to the highest bidder and not think twice about it. Once a business finds itself with millions of users it is impossible to consider the effects of its practices on each individual basis. It is this idea that caused me to be less than surprised when I learned that Facebook had conducted a psychology experiment by manipulating the users news feed.
A few years ago Facebook conducted a study about how the emotions of its users could be affected by what they are exposed to on their news feed. A detailed write up of the findings can be found here but the general idea was that Facebook would hide either positive or negative posts from user’s friends depending on which control group they were a part of, and based on the increased positive or negative material in their feed Facebook would measure how much, if any, change towards positive and negative postings would take place. I clearly remember several close friends of mine becoming enraged at the idea of being part of an experiment that manipulated their emotions when they had not given consent. I kept hearing in my head, every time I heard someone begin to rant about the breach of privacy, the quote I had heard from the random radio program about being the product; real privacy comes at a cost and not an abstract cost but actual money. The more secure you want your house to be the more money it will cost you and the same is true in the realm of your online homespace. Except, with social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter you cannot pay for more security you simply have to accept that the information you provide is public and remain cognizant of this fact whenever you share something online. I think we, as a society, have been online long enough to understand this concept now and there shouldn’t be as much of an uproar about the realities of social media. These convenient means of communication are entirely optional and we have not lost the ability to communicate the old fashion way such as writing a letter or making a phone call or stopping by for a visit. Until we’ve been depleted of any other form of communication we cannot reasonably expect big internet businesses to spend too much time catering to the privacy concerns of the little guys. Sure, most big businesses will hear the cry of their people and take action to try and make them happy but I believe it is imperative for every person who may ever use social media to know that their privacy in an online setting is not a right it’s a privilege and every move they make should be made with in mind.
Yarkoni, T. (2014, June 28). In defense of Facebook. Retrieved October 26, 2015, from http://www.talyarkoni.org/blog/2014/06/28/in-defense-of-facebook/