Written on February 28, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Facebook and other social media tools connect us with new friends, old friends, co-workers, high school classmates, etc.

Is this always a good thing?

A friend in middle school became disturbed in high school (for storytelling sake, let’s call him Ahab). Technically I’m pretty sure Ahab’s a paranoid schizophrenic and from anecdotal accounts of close friends of mine, he became violent, paranoid and pretty crazy. I think his family eventually had Ahab institutionalized. I really hadn’t thought about him in years.

Too little privacy
Fast forward 15 or 16 years and in today’s age of instant access to old friends. He requested to be facebook friends with a friend of mine (let’s call him Joe). Once the friendship request was accepted, Ahab sent Joe a scathing email where he blamed Joe for all of the problems in his life, tried to extort money out of him and said he knows where Joe’s family lives and will do them harm if he doesn’t pay.

So Joe did the responsible thing and called the police, they advised him to keep all the threatening messages, but delete his facebook account and after tracking down Ahab’s family, Joe found out Ahab at least lives out of state (and has been off medication for over a year). So Joe and his family are concerned, but much less so knowing that Ahab lives far away.

Scary story and absolutely true except for the names.

Hearing this got me thinking about what I divulge online. On twitter I’ll happily share the names and pictures of my kids, where I am (via foursquare) and other personal details about my life (where I work, where I’m going on vacation, etc). On facebook I post photo albums to share with friends and family. One personal detail I’ve always left out is my home address, but I have friends who have added their homes to Foursquare and checkin when they get there.

I think social media is one of the last nails in the coffin of privacy and for the most part I’ve accepted that and would rather engage and share what I want to share without fear of deranged people.

A lot of internet privacy stories are ridiculously¬†sensationalized by the media. (Tangent thought: pleaserobme.com is a joke, ok, as a friend tweeted to me about this story: “Know what else tells robbers where you are besides Foursquare?? Being a reporter on a scheduled nightly newscast!!”)

But after hearing horror stories like the one above, I at least need to pause and think about what I share.

Do you? Does this give you pause for concern? Let me know in the comments below.

9 Comments so far
  1. Vivica Shade says:

    I think about what I share all the time. But in this day and age of technology, who doesn’t have the capability to find someone? The person in your story found the high school classmate on Facebook. I have high school classmates finding me on Facebook and everything thing else. Just Google your name, it’s more than likely out there if you have a Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. account. People can search public records for you if you’ve had any kinds of dealings with the courts or the police. Anyone and everyone who wants to find you can and will, unless you’re living in a cave and have no use for technology.

    I won’t share my home address on anything and have yet to even use Foursquare, plus my home phone number unlisted. I basically list my cell phone number on everything and my last name displays on most of the sites I’m on. I figure if someone wants to truly find me they will some kind of way. Great post!

  2. Todd Jordan says:

    It’s old hat to some of us. I’ve been online for longer than some folks I connect with have been alive. Ha.

    There has always been privacy concerns. Though I’m extremely public I definitely moderate what others know about me, my family, and other information.

    Some strategies I’ve adopted:
    1) never give out young children’s names, addresses, and any detail that would make it too easy for a random stranger to pick them out and go after them.
    2) never reveal any information that I’m not 100% cool with it being public already. That means though people often feel they know me, there are a hundred things anyone but intimate friends will every know.
    3) don’t talk about my employer directly and never in a way that is untoward or potentially illegal.
    4) confront trouble head on. During my days running Assassin’s Lair BBS in New Orleans, I dealt with users making threats against me and other users. One of those individuals was known to have ‘issues’ and was known to own a weapon. (I might mention that weapon ownership was a lot more common there than in my current neck of the woods.) Subsequently the police were called in. Transcripts were kept.
    5) vet your friends. This can take any number of forms. In the old BBS days I screened every user. We had over 400 active users. Phone calls, valid addresses, monitoring of what they posted on the board and vetting via other contacts.

    There’s more but part of it just comes down to good old fashioned trust and faith in our fellow man. Honestly, if someone wants to rob me, stalk me, or heaven forbid kill me, they’d have a lot easier time just looking me up in the phone book and waiting at my house. :)

    A bigger risk is always the side we swear we keep hidden, that’s our financials and such. Those are where being online presents a huge risk. People are more careless with that information than I’d ever have imagined.

    So short answer, don’t sweat the hype. Take reasonable precautions. Don’t let your kids talk to strangers or play outside unsupervised. :)

  3. I just had this conversation with someone considering starting a blog. They are concerned about predators, etc. if they were to post family stories and information in the blog. Privacy is pretty much dead. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do about it.

    Collin Harbour

  4. By the way, Todd, I really appreciate your points. I’ve sent this link to my friend so they can utilize some of the information if she wants to start her blog.

  5. Matt says:

    Nice summation.
    I do think people tend to over-share there whereabouts and personal details without considering some of the potential dangers. Facebook provides a layer of insulation (albeit thin) from the general public (although it depends on how selective you are with friend requests). Twitter is a real gold mine for stalkers and criminals to look at user’s locations, daily habits, and schedules, and sometimes it’s easy to forget how public these details are, especially since there is a sense of community.
    Not providing your home address is not much of a precaution since it is so easy to find this from public records. My wife is a psychologist, and has patients that could easily find our home address by looking at tax records. Luckily she hasn’t had any stalker-types, *knocks on wood* but it’s all a little scary just the same.

  6. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by creativereason: New blog post: Social Media and the Death of Privacy – http://is.gd/9q7v5

  7. Dr. Dapo says:

    you make a very good point here. Social media is the last step in the process of relinquishing us of our privacy. employers, feds, stalkers, perverts can all access these networks alike.

    The federal govt in particular is very interested in finding out exactly what we talk about, think about, tweet about, read about, etc. Ever since 9/11 and the implementation of the Patriot Act our privacy has been attacked from all angles.

    You should Google the governments new policy on dealing with the threat of an internet-based terrorist attack. this will surely serve as a means for them to take control of our most sensitive online materials in the name of “prevention”

    twitter.com/DRDAPO
    DRDAPO.com
    drdapo@drdapo.com

  8. @Vivica thank you for the comments. As Matt points out later, people could probably find our home information pretty easily.

    @Todd Thanks for sharing. You’re advice is appreciated and helpful for those that haven’t been doing this since the BB days.

    @Collin & @Matt, @DrDapo thanks for your comments.

    This topic will be continue to be timely as the lines between our online and offline lives become more and more blurred.

  9. Virginia says:

    I am always conscious about what I share online. Aside from the safety issues, I always try to ask myself “Will my kids hate me in 20 years because I blogged this…”

9 Responses to “Social Media and The Death of Privacy”




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