To Make My Profile Private or Not Private? That is the question.

blog on privacy bizjournals.com private accountsWhy would someone make their social media private? This has always bothered me. Is it a sense of elitism or do people really think they are safe online if they make their Instagram or Twitter accounts private? I decided to look into it because when it comes to anything online, there is no such thing as privacy so what’s the point?

Professionals such as teachers or counselors are advised to make their social media private or at least use a fake name so that their students can’t find them. It is still noted that this doesn’t guarantee privacy. A huge reason is parents don’t want strangers to gain access to photos and videos of their children. “My Facebook account is private, but it’s certainly easy enough for a friend to innocently get a screen grab of one of my adorable kids and share it, with all good intentions, with another friend, and then boom! It’s out there.”1

On the other hand, it is pointed out that times are changing and transparency is key. Social media allows us to grow our network professionally and personally. Putting up a “cyber wall” could hurt you.2 Making your profiles private can backfire, making people wonder, “what are you trying to hide? Are you trustworthy?”

It seems like a double edge sword. And the social media companies don’t make it easier because who really reads their terms and conditions? We give away the rights to our content and allow them to do whatever they want with it. But it doesn’t look like the use of social media is slowing down, so how does this affect people?

I spoke with a mother of two young children. She said that despite knowing that her Instagram is private, she realizes it doesn’t mean strangers can’t find their locations and see photos of her 5-year-old eating ice cream or her 2-year-old having a swimming lesson. “I’m not afraid or paranoid but if it’s an extra step for them to (find us), then so much the better.”  She uses social media as a way to keep in touch with family and friends as well as get advice about raising kids, cooking, and other topics, “just staying home watching kids can be boring but with social media, I can see what others are doing and what is going on outside.”

A 25-year-old recent graduate, created an Instagram account in the last year.  He made it to help find topics of interest and see what other like-minded users had to share. For instance, he is an avid bicyclist so he uses social media to find trails around the country or find less expensive tools for his bike. He never made his account private because it wouldn’t be as easy to connect with others who can help him find ideas and places to cycle. “Online is inherently not a private arena,” he recognizes so he avoids posting things he does not want strangers to see.

It’s good to see how people realize that Big Brother, or really, anyone can find your online content but safety isn’t really a concern. It still was bothering me as to why someone would make his or her online profiles private. I spoke with a blogger who has a private and public Twitter and a private Instagram. She started with Live Journal back in 2001 as a teenager and even then knew not to post anything she would be ashamed of or didn’t want a teacher or future boss to see. Even with her private accounts, she never releases names and specific places, just cities and generalizes her experiences. “We need to know the purpose of social media and it is important to understand the space and words of impact anything you put out is part of your brand. What you put out there online is what people will perceive as who you are.” Since she wants more up to date occurrences shared with family and friends, she makes her Instagram private; she doesn’t want to share her life with everyone. With her public social media, she promotes her blogs that are on certain topics to show more professionalism.

From my research and interviews, it appears that private accounts have less to do about privacy, though it still seems counterintuitive. If people acknowledge that anything put online is not private, why make them that in the first place? I for one will continue having my social media public because if anything, it reminds us to post content that we feel is appropriate to a wider community.

References:

Interview 1, interviewed by Tara Jabbari, June 10, 2016.

Interview 2, interviewed by Tara Jabbari, June 13, 2016.

Interview 3, interviewed by Tara Jabbari, June 15, 2016.  

Stein, K. “How Much Privacy Do You Really Have on Your ‘Private’ Social Media Account? (with Images) · K_STEIN.” Storify, 2014. http://storify.com/K_STEIN/how-much-privacy-do-you-really-have-on-your-privat.

Ulster, Laurie. “Why You Should Keep Your Social Media Accounts Private –.” Blog. Scary Mommy, June 1, 2015. http://www.scarymommy.com/club-mid/why-you-should-keep-your-social-media-accounts-private/.

1 Laurie Ulster, “Why You Should Keep Your Social Media Accounts Private –,” Blog, Scary Mommy, (June 1, 2015), http://www.scarymommy.com/club-mid/why-you-should-keep-your-social-media-accounts-private/.

2 K Stein, “How Much Privacy Do You Really Have on Your ‘Private’ Social Media Account? (with Images) · K_STEIN,” Storify, 2014, http://storify.com/K_STEIN/how-much-privacy-do-you-really-have-on-your-privat.

 

Tara Jabbari

Tara Jabbari graduated in 2017 with a Master's in the Communication, Culture & Technology program at Georgetown University and was the Assistant Webmaster for gnovis. She has worked in the United States and New Zealand for non-profits in web management and producing documentaries for the organizations.