Friday, February 24, 2012

Could Social Media Law 2012 Turn Concepts Like BuzzFeed Into BuzzKill? Privacy And The Sanctity Of The Timeline...

A few weeks back, I commented on Brian Wassom’s January 5th Mashable article:  5 Predictions for Social Media Law in 2012

My comment was:
"so, is time to start worrying about the business of illegal post stuffing/purging of our social media timelines by criminal parties for those with ulterior motives?"

The comment didn’t generate any responses but it should be a concern for us all.  Another article referenced in a comment from Darren Heitner was regarding our Facebook post’s discoverability.  The abstract follows:

ABSTRACT: Facebook has revolutionized the way that people communicate and do business by providing an open and connected environment for individuals and businesses alike. This openness has largely contributed to both its popularity and success. However, enjoying the openness of this revolutionary platform may come at an unexpected cost, especially for those who do not understand how the website’s content may be used as evidence in a lawsuit. Darren Heitner demonstrates how content published on a person’s Facebook account may be discoverable for the purposes of litigation, even when the information sought is unavailable through Facebook’s privacy settings.

Note, that despite privacy settings and whether they work as described by Facebook (another concern of mine), all of your posts are discoverable.  I believe this should be limited to what was shared based on the expectation how it was shared ie: public (friends of friends) vs a semi private (friends only) conversation, or private (one on one chat) but that is not the way it goes.  Again, this does not even take into account whether the privacy settings work as Facebook says they do when other Facebook users browse your timeline or photos and potentially worse, when you have no understanding of the actual access a Facebook partner has to your friends, timelines etc.  For instance, is that partner granted access as a friend, a friend of a friend, or is it’s access as if it were you yourself?  If you are not careful, it’s very scary what could be exposed to an audience other than what you believed, expected (or intended) based on your privacy settings.

This all said, there was an article this week on Digiday by Saya Weissman regarding BuzzFeed’s Facebook Time Machine which helps you go back in time, on your Facebook Timeline that is, with nostalgic blasts from the past potentially interesting to others.  While the concept is interesting and even tempting, it does play right into my concerns about the ability to post content into our timelines rather than in real or near real time.  What is going to protect us from the potential side effects of errant, missing or undesirable data becoming legal discovery as if it was posted when (and if) it happened?  While the BuzzFeed idea is neat, who protects our timelines from posts as well as unintentional deletions?  Are the platform providers and their employees themselves adequate guardians?


One might argue that if you are uncomfortable with the downside of these new social media platforms, don’t use them.  The problem is that they are very powerful platforms connecting and reconnecting people, businesses, brands, b2b, b2c, etc. enabling engagement, showing measurable and immeasurable benefits for all parties even in these very early stages.  


Staying away is not the answer.  Caution certainly should be.  Educating both young and old with a clear, accurate understanding how our data is being accessed, used and/or could be used in the future would be a big step in the right direction as well. Perhaps an industry partnership and/or adcouncil campaign is necessary. Regardless, of whether a timeline should be legally discoverable, I believe the concern for the sanctity of our timelines is real and will have to be addressed somehow ... even if in general, they should be no more a record of events than hearsay and rumor.


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  1. It's not hearsay and rumor if it you posted the content. It can certainly be viewed as an admission.

    1. Sorry Darren, I am not sure why I never saw your comment. Much appreciated and I apologize for not following up. My point was more directed to that which could show up in a timeline via a 'friend' or app's posting (including something like buzzfeed) which 1) could effectively back fill a post into your timeline or 2) via a misunderstanding of what an app can/may post on your behalf. You may not even see and/or know about it if you are not diligent about watching your timeline. If something is undesirable or inaccurate, you can not address what you do not see. Yet, as you pointed out in your piece, you are responsible for what's there. Today, with the volume of information limiting the half-life of a post's immediate visibility, and the evolving changes made to Facebook you may not even see everything that shows up in your timeline for any number of reasons, including one of Facebook's algorithm's not showing a particular post at a particular time.