Last year in a small Dutch town, 4,000 people showed up to a 16-year-old’s birthday party because she accidentally made the event public on Facebook. The event went viral and the party ended in a riot.
Even with viral tendencies and lack of privacy, Facebook has decided to remove more privacy restrictions by making all profiles visible to the public.
Users aged 13 to 17 will be able to make a public post for the first time, and both teens and adults have lost the ability to keep their profiles out of Facebook’s search engine.
“I use Facebook so much, and I didn’t even know,” said STU journalism student Tess Allen. She uses the social network to form her articles and to share her life with friends online.
“You would think that Facebook would actually do something so that it makes you aware.”
Facebook only gave a one-time warning to users, though tech blogs and Facebook’s own news page reported on it heavily.
The move to less privacy for every Facebook user improves the usefulness of the Facebook project graph search, which allows users to search for others using keywords related to interests, locations, posts and other profile information. It is currently being rolled out in the US and Canada.
While graph search doesn’t necessarily make any more of your information available to others, it makes it much easier to sift through.
Teens, who Facebook claims are “among the savviest people using social media,” are still not allowed to make their posts public as their default setting. When they select the public post option, they are given a disclaimer and a reminder afterwards.
Fourth-year criminology major Zo Bourgeois doesn’t think the warnings are going to stop kids from making poor decisions online. She believes most already know about privacy settings but they just don’t have the discretion to use it.
“I think they’re at that stage where they want people to know. If they get 600 friend requests that makes them think they’re popular and cool, when really these people are all pretty much strangers to them.”
Many youth already lie about their ages to access the unrestricted Facebook. Now they don’t have to.
Bourgeois, a Facebook addict herself, understands the urge to publicize yourself. She says online networks have become so popular, especially among teens like her 14-year-old cousin Jaiden, that without the Internet they feel “left out of a lot of conversations.”
A Pew Research survey on teen Facebook use found that 89 per cent of respondents say it’s “not difficult at all,” or “not too difficult” to manage privacy controls and only 14 per cent of teens said they make their profiles public.
Even kids know they can lower the risk of an embarrassing post coming back to haunt them by using the privacy controls on all of the individual items attached to their profile.
As with the teenager from Holland, making things on Facebook public can have very negative repercussions.
Still, when it comes to broadcasting your life to an audience of one billion people, Allen says discretion is the name of the game.
“I think you should only post things that are appropriate and that only your friends should see it. That’s kind of what I’ve always taken as the golden rule. But this still makes me more cautious about posting stuff online.”