Teaching Kids to Ignore the Privacy Settings Online

BlogHer Original Post

Facebook has changed their privacy settings once again in regards to teenagers.  Prior to this point, teens could only share their status updates and photos with friends of friends.  But now, teens can add their content to be viewed by the public, allowing strangers to subscribe to their feed, view their updates, and collect data.

Facebook is balancing this with making the default setting on new accounts set for "only share with friends" and adding pop-up warnings that remind teens what it means to set their accounts to public.  But all of the changes point towards the more important conversation parents need to be having with their teens:

Ignore the privacy settings.


Image: Wiertz S├ębastien via Flickr

I'm not saying that teens should post their content willy-nilly, allowing strangers into their life, but we should be teaching teens to post as if everything they upload to Facebook (or any social media site) is visible to the public.  Because the reality is, if you read the terms of service, all of that content IS accessible to others in the larger sense of the word.  Private messages can become public likes and nothing on Facebook is every truly deleted on Facebook's end, even if it's inaccessible to you or your friends.  Too many bugs and hacks exist to view content as secure, and with changes to the privacy settings happening frequently, users would be better off behaving as if everything is public.

Privacy settings give people a false sense of security.  They post things they wouldn't normally place online for the general public, not considering how those images and words are stored by companies.  And they've given those companies permission to use and store their information by using their site.

So instead of focusing on how to navigate privacy settings, I'm spending more time teaching my kids not to believe in privacy settings.  To operate on social media as if everyone could see their words or images.  Therefore, never write about another person negatively if they wouldn't want them to see it, never put up anything embarrassing, never give out personal information.  To even consider carefully the times they speak effusively about a product or write about future plans. 

We're having these conversations now, before they actually enter Facebook and Twitter, so that when they make their accounts, they hit the ground knowing that privacy settings tend to be a bit fluid with the online world, and the only way they can truly protect their privacy is to not post certain things online at all.

Have you spoken with your teen about privacy settings?  Do you operate as if privacy settings don't exist, or do you post trusting that others can't see what you're uploading?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.


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