Editorial: Facebook privacy doesn’t exist

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Interactions on social media sometimes go wrong. Someone’s embarrassing chat messages get leaked online, two people get into a bitter argument online, and every now and then, something that was supposed to be private becomes public.  Recently, students have expressed outrage at the thought that private interactions on social media could lead to school disciplinary action.

But is anything on social media private? At first, this answer appears to be yes. People shouldn’t be on other people’s Facebook accounts, and they definitely shouldn’t be looking through other people’s messages or posts without permission. Likewise, it would seem also fair to suggest that the administration shouldn’t be able to use actions done on non-school websites as cause for punishment.  Even having the administration learn about these online activities is seen by many as a violation of privacy and fundamental rights.

This brings us to the real question behind this dispute: what is actually “a violation of privacy”?

To answer this question, we think it’s a bit easier to show examples of what real violations of privacy look like. Someone hacking into your phone and uploading your personal pictures on the internet? Yes. You tell your friend a secret and he or she tells it to other people without your permission? Yes. Keeping a diary and having someone steal and publicize it? Yes.

Being held accountable on Facebook or any other social media platform for irresponsible actions? Definitely not. Actions that are discovered on social media simply do not fall under the umbrella of privacy, even if those actions are done in “secret.”

Social media itself is a public forum. Your posts, your pictures, your messages are all (to some extent) public, even if only shared to a few groups.  This is the fundamental issue: if you decide to post something, you have decided that the power for that information to spread is entirely up to those who you have allowed to see your posts.  Is it a violation of your trust if others leak posts that you hoped to confine to a small group of friends? Of course, but in the real world, if you tell one friend a secret, you likely can expect your privacy to be honored. If you tell two hundred friends a secret and are shocked and enraged when your privacy is violated, you’re simply being foolish.  The same goes for the virtual world.

By nature, large groups of socially active persons are bound to have a “leaking” of secrets at one point or another; that does not change when the socializing happens online. Private messages, private groups, private pages: who is to say that someone involved in these private things won’t share the information with others? It’s impossible to account for every single person with access to something on social media, even when those things are supposedly private.

We at The Classic do not promote the censoring or restraint of students’ first amendment rights. Individuals have the right to say anything they want, be it good or bad, but others have a right to respond to your speech.  If people share potentially controversial or hurtful things on a public forum, they must expect a response. No one can complain that his or her privacy was invaded because he or she used Facebook’s privacy features to hide ugly comments.

There’s no such thing as privacy on Facebook, and we can argue that there theoretically should be, but in our opinion, we’d all be better off if we just accepted this reality and acted responsibly.