PRIvacy or PriVACY? Either way, we must look out for ourselves

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Funny, yet true, cartoon (From

Funny, yet true, cartoon (From

Privacy: It’s something many of us worry about giving up too much of, especially in the social media age where we share the play-by-play of our vacation as it’s happening, give our location coordinates in our Twitter bio and share photos of our children even before they’re born.

I’ve recently checked my privacy settings on Facebook and Twitter, but I couldn’t tell you when it was (at least in the last six months). If they are set the way you want them, I wouldn’t really think you would need to check them more than quarterly (unless the social network you use had a privacy breach or something of that nature).

How do you check your privacy settings? I’m not here to tell you that. That’s why we have Google searches.

However, I will offer some suggestions that social networks can use to make it easier for their users to maintain their privacy, kind of similar to some suggestions I gave for easier-to-understand terms and conditions.

-Make it simpler. These settings shouldn’t be hidden from people. They should be easy to find. Like it or not, you are making a site that your grandmother will use (i.e.: Facebook) and she should be able to find how to tweak her privacy settings with no problem. In addition to making them easy to find, they should also be easy to read and understand (not a page with thousands of words on it).

-Remind people to check them. If you don’t remind or prompt a person to do something, chances are, they won’t do it (especially if it’s something as non-sexy as checking privacy settings).

-Give people the most private settings to start. People can always make their profiles more open if they want, but give them the most secure settings as a default.

Speaking of privacy, what if you want to reach out to someone you don’t know? What if that person doesn’t want to be found by people they don’t know. These are some issues that journalists can come across in the information-gathering process.

Justin went over this in lecture this week, revisiting a discussion we had several weeks ago about contacting a friend of a crime suspect via social media. I would say that it is OK to contact this person via social media, as long as you identify who you are upfront. If possible, it may be even better to call this person or physically go to their home. Contacting a person on Facebook is akin to knocking on their door, a tough job, but one a journalist still must do.

Now, if that person does grant you access behind the curtain and accepts your Facebook friend request after you’ve identified yourself as a journalist, the question is it ethical to republish material from a private social media space?

I think while you do technically have access to the material, asking permission will probably give an added level of protection as well as continue to build trust with that source. After all, trust is an important aspect when it comes to letting down that privacy wall.


Social media & website comments: Everything in moderation


comment moderation

Expletives: Something you probably want to keep from showing up on your social media pages or website.

Depending upon the venue, whether it’s a social media channel or a website, comment moderation can be quite a different animal.

On social media sites, an entity like a brand or a news organization is like a tenant renting an apartment — they can make the space their own, but they are just “renting it” from that social media entity and the users.

This is why Justin said in this week’s lecture that we should take “a light touch” to comment moderation on social sites such as Facebook and I would have to say I agree. However, some moderation has to be involved as people will still see your brand’s Facebook page belonging to your brand and not really see the distinction that your brand is simply using Facebook.

A great feature of Facebook’s that I have utilized in my professional career is the ability to “hide comments.” Facebook’s swear word filter usually does a great job of not allowing those profanity-laced comments to show up, but sometimes they do. If I see a comment containing profanity, racist or sexual language, I will hide the comment. It will no longer show up on our page, but the user whose comment was hidden doesn’t know their comment is hidden.

This is the BIG distinction between Facebook and Twitter: You can’t hide Tweets if they have inappropriate language. The only way Tweets can go bye-bye is if the user who created the Tweet deletes it. All you can do is respond to the Tweet and hope that person with the question or concern “retweets” or “favorites” your Tweet.

On your business’ website, however, it’s a different story. People have to play by your rules because to use your site, they probably had to agree to your business’ terms and conditions. So if someone posts something that your entity deems to be against its terms and conditions, you can remove it.

Whether on social media or your website, however, sometimes you’re going to run into a sticky ethical wicket where you’re not quite sure how to respond — perhaps the commenter says something libelous or asks a question that you’re not sure how to answer.

Like Justin said, this is when you should move it up the chain to your manager and ask them how to handle it and I totally agree with this point as well. Some comments have an easy, clear-cut response and some do not. Two heads are better than one and it is better when that other head is your manager. This way, everyone knows what is going on and can head off potential issues before they become larger issues.

A matter of trust: How to establish it (or break it) on social media

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Ouch, this is very true.

Trust is key, not just on social media but also in several other facets of life. Overall, I agree with Steve Rayson’s formula for social media trust presented in lecture:

Trust = Authority x Helpfulness x Intimacy x Reliability/Self-Promotion

But rather than talk about the factors I agree with, I would like to talk about two large pieces that need to be added to the equation.

Time. A source/brand/individual needs to become an established part of the conversation before I can trust them. I’m not going to automatically trust Joe Blow who just joined Twitter yesterday and has no profile picture. But if Joe Blow keeps putting out quality content day after day, year after year, he’s going to gain a following. And that takes time.

Accuracy (and a dash of honesty). Some may argue that this goes along with reliability; however, a source could be reliably inaccurate. Whether you’re talking about a news organization or a company, putting accurate information on social media is very important. When inaccurate information makes its way on to a source’s social media page, the information needs to be corrected as soon as possible (this is where the honesty comes in – own up to the fact you made a mistake). It is probably best to follow the advice put forth in Twitter’s Terms and Conditions: “think before you tweet.” Consistently putting out inaccurate information will definitely lead to a loss of trust.

With these two factors in mind, here is what my revamped formula social media trust would look like:

Trust = (Authority x Helpfulness x Intimacy x Reliability) x (Time2 x Accuracy2) – Self-Promotionx

Here’s my reasoning behind the formula: I think time put into social media and accuracy when using social media are extra-important factors, so I weighted them more heavily (by making them squared) in the formula.

Also, instead of dividing the amount of self-promotion an entity does, I subtracted it from trust. Let’s be honest: Our organization can have the best of intentions, but one of the main reasons we are all on social media is to promote ourselves on some level. Yet there are ways to promote oneself without being overt, so that is why I made it possible to multiply self-promotion to the x power.

I’m no math whiz, but without trust, love cannot blossom, many say. And don’t you want people to love your personal/professional brand? So don’t give people a reason not to trust you!

LinkedIn User Agreement: Encourages user accuracy, but does not guarantee it


Like the Terms and Conditions for its social networking brethren, Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn’s User Agreement is long and chocked full of legalese.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn makes the severity of its User Agreement much more obvious to the user. It says “Note: You are entering into a legally binding agreement” (click screen grab below to see larger):


There’s no mystery with LinkedIn’s terms: You’d better be ready for a “legally binding agreement.”

The agreement goes on to emphasize accuracy and truth when creating a profile, both of which are commendable ethical standards to hold users to:

 … you promise that your LinkedIn profile will be truthful. … It is your responsibility to keep your LinkedIn profile information accurate and updated.”

LinkedIn also builds in the caveat that its services are only meant for users who are the “Minimum Age” or older, which differs from country to country; in China, the minimum age is 18 while it is 14 for the United States.

Like Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn warns users that the information they share on the web is never fully private, and to keep this in mind when it comes to business dealings:

Therefore, if you have an idea or information that you would like to keep confidential or don’t want others to use, or that is subject to third party rights that may be infringed by your sharing it, do not post it to any LinkedIn Group, into your Network Updates, or elsewhere on LinkedIn. LINKEDIN IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANOTHER’S MISUSE OR MISAPPROPRIATION OF ANY CONTENT OR INFORMATION YOU POST ON LINKEDIN.”

I am all for LinkedIn wanting to hold people to a high ethical standard by keeping their profiles up to date, and for keeping young children off of a service meant for adults. But there is no way they can enforce these standards all of the time. (Technically, even I’ve been in violation of the LinkedIn User Agreement. On some occasions, I’ve gone a few months without updating my LinkedIn profile after switching jobs.) The World Wide Web is too vast and wide to catch everything. So how can the company protect itself from potential unscrupulous characters?

By adding a statement like this in its disclaimer:


Yet the whole agreement itself still has the potential to be ignored. When one goes to sign up for an account, they are told that “By clicking Join LinkedIn, you agree to LinkedIn’s User Agreement, Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy.” Many folks who are ready to sign up and connect with professional connections will probably just click the “Join” button and not think twice.

As a whole, social networks almost really need to hit users over the head with their terms and conditions, making it something people actually need to read carefully instead of being able to just check a box and move on.

Non-boring Terms and Conditions for Facebook & Twitter


google youtube facebok twitter amazon

Have you actually read the terms for any of these recognizable sites?

When I signed up for Facebook in 2005 and Twitter in 2008, I most definitely did not read the Terms and Conditions for either site. I was more concerned with becoming part of the conversation on each social network.

Most of us don’t read the fine print, whether it’s signing up for a social media site or signing an apartment lease, as it takes too long. Our instructor Justin Kings mentioned in this week’s lecture that he didn’t fully read all of the paperwork he was signing while buying a car and most of us can relate to this.

Length is a big thing I would change in re-drafting Facebook and Twitter‘s Terms and Conditions. Of course, I wouldn’t do away fully with the long documents full of legalese, as this can protect the companies in the instance that someone wants to sue them. However, I would make a more basic, user-friendly terms document that would provide a link to the full terms should someone want to read them.

I would also make the user agree to each term, paragraph-by-paragraph, to ensure they actually read them. (Of course, there wouldn’t be too many paragraphs.) I’m no lawyer, but here’s what I think the user-friendly terms should look like:

You promise to be an ethical Internet citizen when using our services. Bullying and spamming other users will not be tolerated. If you see other users engaging in such practices, please report it to us so that we may take appropriate action against that user including but not limited to termination of their account.

We will respect your privacy. We will not sell or share your information with third-parties without your consent. However, you must remember that nothing you post on social media is truly private. Even with privacy settings, your friends can still copy, download or share any content you post.

We are not liable for any losses, perceived or actual, from using our services. You are using our services “as-is” and agree to not hold us liable for any information you come across from using our site. Other humans are posting the information, so we cannot guarantee the authenticity of that information.

If you wish to no longer share your information with us, you may delete your account. It will take some time, about 30 days, for your data to clear out of our system, but once it does, we will not hold any more of your information. However, information that you shared with friends during usage of the site that was not deleted may live on.

This, of course is a very limited Terms and Conditions list, but I think it is a good jumping off point for Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to create a shorter, more user-friendly terms page that people will actually read!