Let’s say a neighbor hosts a backyard BBQ, to which he invites a few other neighbors, but not his next-door neighbor, Scott. Why? Maybe it was because he doesn’t know Scott very well. Maybe because he thought Scott was cranky that third time someone’s ball went over his fence that one day. Maybe he doesn’t like Scott’s Obama bumper sticker. Who knows? And maybe it feels like a snub and Scott’s feelings are a little hurt. But where does Scott go with it?
Would he hang out by the back fence waiting for the BBQ to get underway, look over at what’s on the grill, and then call over to his neighbor to make a “friendly” comment about the food he’s serving? Not unless he’s a snoop and someone who wants (subconsciously? passive aggressively? flauntingly?) to let his neighbor to know that in spite of not being invited, he showed up anyway, if only by peering over the fence. That would be disrespectful and crossing a boundary, right?
The privacy controls in social media are like a backyard fence. A fence is meant to provide boundaries between good neighbors, but other people can peek over it or through a knothole if they can figure out how to get to the property line, which happens with the click of a mouse these days. On Facebook that might be as simple as watching the real-time Ticker to the right of one’s Newsfeed. All you have to do is hover your mouse over something one of your Facebook friends has “liked” on the post of someone who isn’t your Facebook friend, and you can see that non-friend’s post and all of the comments.
Think of the possibilities.
Suppose that Rose posted a photo of herself at the celebration of her recent job promotion and Annabeth “liked” it. Everyone who is Facebook friends with Annabeth, including Rose’s ex-boyfriend Tony, can see what Annabeth “likes” in their Tickers. EDITED: Facebook puts her (and everyone’s) posts and photos in Ticker, which shows up to friends of friends if Rose’s friend likes or comments on it.
So the situation could be this: While Rose is still at the dinner party celebrating her promotion, she gets a congratulatory text from Tony, who isn’t her friend on Facebook. She is baffled at how he found out. Because of Ticker, Rose’s ex-boyfriend found out about her promotion before many of Rose’s own Facebook friends happened to see the photo in their own Newsfeed or on Rose’s Timeline.
Of course, Tony took it up a notch. He read Rose’s news, knew it wasn’t intended for him, and sent a message to Rose under the guise of congratulations that let her know he knew.
So, what does Rose do to prevent Tony from seeing her posts? Ask Annabel not to comment or like her posts? Deactivate Facebook? Unfriend Annabel? Absent that, Ticker gives Tony a virtual peephole into Rose’s life at the tip of his fingertips every time one of their mutual friends likes something Rose posted on Facebook. EDITED TO ADD: The only way that Rose can keep her posts out of friends of friends’ Tickers is to set her posts to “Friends Only.”
This post isn’t to bash Facebook, a place I like to connect with my friends and family. Although it is a post meant to scrutinize Ticker, and to consider generally that the social graces we practice (or ought to) in face-to-face interactions translate to our virtual ones.
We can’t have our privacy and share our lives online too. It’s the price of being active on social media, something many of us enjoy quite a bit even as we are sometimes bedeviled and baffled by it. We can do our very best to carefully set and monitor our privacy controls, but even without active participation in social media, it’s almost impossible to stem the tide of an online presence and the information flow that comes from it. And some of us, especially those who work at home or are behind computers a lot, really like the social interactions and connections that happen online.
One would hope that good people, like good neighbors with fences, would respect social media boundaries. If we aren’t Facebook friends with someone, and that person has posted something that is not set to “Public,” we might endeavor to resist the temptation to snoop—even if Facebook gives us access to a peek via that real-time stalking assistant known as Ticker.
Of course, we are not saints and sometimes curiosity gets the best of us, myself included. However, should we find ourselves lurking where we haven’t been welcomed, whether in places such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or looking over the fence into our neighbor’s yard, perhaps the best thing we may have going for us is common courtesy. Because calling over the fence, “Hey, it’s time to flip those burgers!” probably won’t get Scott invited to the next BBQ either.
For an interesting read on the “like” feature, check out Schmutzie’s article on Medium, “I Quit Liking Things on Facebook for Two Weeks. Here’s How It Changed My View of Humanity.”
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