As the heads of major social media networks testify before Congress, an insightful new survey shows Americans are rethinking their use of services like Facebook and Twitter.
More than half of respondents to a new Pew Research poll say they have adjusted their Facebook privacy settings to divulge less information, and 42 percent have taken a break from the social media network.
While we don't take polling figures as gospel, in this case we hope the trend lines hold.
On the surface it would appear many Americans, especially younger ones, are perfectly fine with trading away any notion of privacy in exchange for free services. Social media networks have become the public square, the telephone, the television — vital communication tools. But we're not convinced that most Facebook users realize exactly to what extent and to whom they are exposing personal information.
As a disheartening number of cyber breaches have shown, your data is not necessarily safe, so your use of these services is predicated on allowing anyone — not just your friends and family — to capture whatever you post, whatever you comment. Deleting a post or tweet doesn't erase it from existence — can you say "screenshot?"
Closer to home, more and more we are seeing the contents of people's Facebook posts and tweets ending up in civil court.
Defamation suits based in part on social media posts are no longer a novelty, and when it comes to divorces and child-custody disputes, social media posts can be fertile territory for a spouse trying to show infidelity, harassment or bad parenting.
Posting about the party you attended and the alcohol you consumed — while a child was in your car — or taking public jabs at your soon-to-be ex are things judges now see in such cases as they try to decide if the parents are truly trying to be reasonable with one another or if one is goading the other along, or worse, using it as harassment.
In the future and as we increasingly see the rise of bots that spout one (often misleading) political point of view, we need to be vigilant and evermore cautious about our usage of these services. We've said before the "Wild West" factor of social media may very well be what ultimately makes it less integral to us; already we see people learning they can't believe something just because they read it on Facebook.
People want to see what the "real" media has to say when "stories" surface on social media like this one earlier this week: "Did the federal government cancel an $80 million Nike contract" because it believes the company "hates the country"? No, it didn't; no such contract existed.
While social media is a fabric of our lives now, that doesn't mean users can't demand change — especially regarding who has access to this data.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD