Privacy Issues with Social Media
In the 21st century, sharing posts and texting on social media such as Facebook and Instagram has become part of people’s daily life. However, when this personal information is continuously being uploaded on internet, not only can your personal circle see it, but so can everyone else in the world, such as criminals and intelligence agencies. Although some might believe that privacy settings can be controlled by the content creator, in recent events it is clear that privacy is no longer a choice of an individual. Moreover, there are no existing laws that are able to effectively stop our private communication and information from being disclosed to the third party. For example, viral content, if unnoted by the owner, could potentially result in serious breaches of privacy and create in-person dilemmas unforeseen on an online platform.
People in the digital age must begin to advocate for a more sensitized environment concerning where the boundaries of privacy should be and be aware of how much is actually being controlled by the practical user. Should we have an expectation of privacy when we use social media? Ideally, we should. Privacy is a basic human right that everyone deserves, and it should not be restricted due to the progression of technology. However, the reality is that inhabitants in this complex digital ecosystem are gradually losing their privacy. Digital citizen’s not only have their personal information constantly stored, but their everyday movements are transparent to the public as well. Therefore, users on social networking sites reserve the right to be aware that everything posted on or passing through the internet is at high risks to be exposed to others, no matter what your privacy setting is.
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Moreover, the government should take action to properly regulate privacy conditions on social media, preventing social media companies, law enforcement agencies, and criminals from illegally using and monitoring personal information. According to the official “Company Info” of Facebook, which has been deemed as one of the most popular social networking website worldwide, there are 2.23 billion users in 2018, and nearly half of them use Facebook every single day (2018). This also means there are 2.23 billion people in the world “agree” to Facebook’s privacy condition, though most of them might never actually fully read said terms and conditions. Therefore, those casual users may never know that users are actually responsible to take their own actions if they desire their own online privacy.
As stated in a news article exposing Facebook’s privacy settings, “to opt out of full disclosure of most information, it is necessary to click through more than 50 privacy buttons, which then require choosing among a total of more than 170 options” (Bilton, 2010). In other words, users have to spend a considerable amount of time to protect their privacy, their basic human rights, even though many of them are unaware that loopholes even exist. Nonetheless, even if a user changes all the privacy settings on the website, some pieces of information are still vulnerable to be stolen. For example, there is a function called “community pages”, which “automatically links personal data, like hometown or university, to topic pages for that town or university” (Bilton, 2010). Overall, if users are not aware of these details, their personal data can be easily accessed by anyone with greater knowledge of the computer system or database. However, what should be most importantly noted is that overall users are given a false sense of security.
Additionally, private policies are usually inscrutable for normal people. “Facebook’s privacy contract is 5830 words long,” written in incomprehensible legal language (Bilton, 2010). Any normal person would have difficulty to understand it. Even if some users could and would actually read it, they have no opportunity to negotiate with it. And even if they read it, most likely many only have the option to accept the sketchy terms that would violate their own rights in order to stay in touch with their friends. That is our current reality. In fact, according to Lee Rainie’s report, a 2014 survey from Pew research center found that “80% of social media users said they were concerned about advertisers and businesses accessing the data they share on social media platforms” (2018). This demonstrates that most social networking sites, including Facebook, tend to expose as much material as possible to attract a greater audience, as well as businesses, to maximize their profits and popularity.
Although it is natural for companies to be motivated by profit and boosting their marketing revenue, it is undeniable that human rights are unfortunately being swept under the rug as a result. Are there any existing laws that could protect us against these crises? Unfortunately, despite privacy issues having been constantly brought to public’s attention recently, the law is currently of little help to protect users’ privacy. Based on Semitsu’s research, a professor from University of San Diego School of Law, “a warrant is only necessary to compel disclosure of inbox and outbox messages less than 181 days old, based on Facebook’s own interpretation of federal privacy laws” (2011). Semitsu reveals that what we usually think is “personal” is not actually true because social media companies often benefit through the grey areas of law. However, even if Facebook adopted the clearest of policies, for now, user data is still at a high risk of being disclosed.
The first main reason is that federal courts have failed to properly adapt the Fourth Amendment law to the realities of digital culture. Second, is that Congress has failed to meaningfully revise the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) for over a quarter century (Semitsu, 2011). From these facts, it is reasonable to conclude there are no solidly existing law or laws that could regulate and control privacy issues on social networking sites. Hence, I assert that the government should take action to protect citizen’s privacy on social media as soon as possible because we are reaching a point in technology where the fine line between on-screen and off-screen are becoming meshed together. Social media surveillance from government agencies is another surrounding controversial issue. Some might think that it is legitimate protection mechanism for polices and intelligence agencies to trace our posts and online activities because that type of information is already somewhat public. For instance, Gillespie, a professor from Lancaster University Law School, states that “when postings are public and available for all to see it is unlikely that it could be concluded that the viewing of the information is covert in that there must be an awareness that those in authority could look at the postings” (Gillespie, 2009).
However, there might be more to consider than what we originally thought. First, information that the government can monitor might be far more than those that are considered “public” by a normal user. As I have described above, according to Semitsu’s report, except for inbox and outbox messages less than 181 days old, “everything else can be obtained with subpoenas that do not even require reasonable suspicion” (Semistsu, 2011). This could threaten people’s freedom of speech and other rights that are supposedly protected by the law, which is especially dangerous for those who hold unpopular perspectives and support minorities causes. Some might doubt the necessity and importance of privacy.
The common saying goes, “if you did not do anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry”. However, I question that statement with the rebuttal of who gets to define the boundary between “wrong” and “right”? What if your positions are against the government? A prime example is Edward Snowden. Snowden, a former employee of CIA who leaked government surveillance programs to the public, has asserted that “[a]rguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say” (Snowden, 2015). In fact, Scott explains in his research that the Department of Homeland Security has actually began monitoring activities, even events expected to be peaceful, related to “Black Lives Matter” on social media accounts including Facebook, Twitter, and Vine since the protest started in Ferguson (Scott, 2017).
In fact, report also showed that “DHS previously contracted with General Dynamics to monitor, in general, the news, specifically social media, for any reports that reflected badly on DHS or the U.S. Government” (Scott, 2017). All in all, government surveillance could pose a profound impact on basic human rights. Collecting data and monitoring movements from any normal citizen was not an easy task in the past, at least not as simple as today, so there might be no policies to set an adequate boundary of government surveillances on internet. However, if we constantly lack new regulations to properly maintain our technological community, the freedom that we relish in person today may not have the same outcome online.
Though people’s privacy is supposed to be protected, some may argue that social media users should not expect privacy since they have disclosed their personal data and private life “voluntarily”. This might sound approvable at first glance, but this is actually not an excuse for social media companies, authorities and others to access and use people’s information in unwarranted situations. First, it is quite difficult for the majority of online citizens to completely opt out of social media and online communication in our modern society. Not only because of social interactions with friends and relatives, but also because of integral sites like LinkedIn and other imperative sites for job postings that normalize an individual in our society today. I personally have an experience of joining a new social media due to a course requirement in school. Second, even if one could avoid to use any social media, their data might still be disclosed due to posts created by other users.
For example, “[o]n closed Facebook profiles, a photo might be ‘tagged’ with the name of a person who might not even themselves have a Facebook account, and so have no access or notice to remove the tag” (Edwards & Urquhart, 2016). Therefore, information could still be collected from someone random on the internet, and there is no way to stop everyone that has your photo and data to upload it on social media. To sum up, contrary to common belief, whether someone chooses to join a certain social media platform or not and what to disclose on it, simply are not voluntary choices in our current day and age. It is not a valid argument to say that social media users do not deserve protection of privacy because they chose to share their own information with others. In conclusion, our lives today are written out in these thousands and millions of Facebook posts, Facebook Messenger texts and Instagram photos.
These social media platforms create an extraordinary networking for us to connect with others both on a different personal level, but also to connect with others in a different time zone or across the globe. Yet, at the same time of enjoying this glorious and complex internet ecosystem, we should also be aware of our privacy, especially those that are generally considered to be private by users such as inbox and outbox messages. Because social media content is controlled by the company of that platform, even if users restrict access to their materials, they are still disclosed to as least one third party.
However, to say that we give up our rights of privacy on social platforms because we are not experts in law and are not able to negotiate the terms and conditions with large companies seems surreal. To say that we should not expect privacy and allow companies, authorities and criminals access our data because we and our friends join social networking sites seems like an unreasonable bargaining tool, hijacking the common man. Putting all the points above together, we should keep fighting for the revision of laws that regulate information securities and privacy before we have to accept the Hobson’s choice: either break off all connections and benefits on social media or give up our rights of privacy.
- Bilton, N. (2010, May 12). The Price of Facebook Privacy? Start Clicking. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/13/technology/personaltech/13basics.html
- Company Info. (2018.). Retrieved from https://newsroom.fb.com/company-info/
- Edwards, L., & Urquhart, L. (2016, September 1). Privacy in public spaces: what expectations of privacy do we have in social media intelligence? International Journal of Law and Information Technology.
- Gillespie, A. (2009). Regulation of online surveillance. Rainie, L. (2018, March 27). How Americans feel about social media and privacy. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/27/americans-complicated-feelings-about-social-media-in-an-era-of-privacy-concerns/
- Semitsu, J. (2011.). From Facebook to Mug Shot: How the Dearth of Social Networking Privacy Rights Revolutionized Online Government Surveillance.
- Scott, J. (2017). Social Media and Government Surveillance: The Case for Better Privacy Protections for Our Newest Public Space.
- Snowden, E. (2015.). R/IAmA – Just days left to kill mass surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. We are Edward Snowden and the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer. AUA. Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/36ru89/just_days_left_to_kill_mass_surveillance_under/crglgh2/
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Privacy Issues with Social Media. (2021, Apr 12). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/privacy-issues-with-social-media/