Image provided by Amber Hopes

Image provided by Amber Hopes

Over the past few weeks I have realized that I am guilty of having very little awareness of my internet presence and how much I use social media in day-to-day life. Because it’s so worked into my daily routine, I never think twice about initiating a video chat, posting a status update, or commenting on a picture. It’s almost as if I am on social media autopilot. Does this sound at all familiar to you? Most of us are engaged in so many realms of social media that it’s hard to keep up with everything. One of the first things that comes to mind for me when I consider the level of complexity that exists as social media advances continue is whether it is still possible to preserve a sense of privacy. Just think about how you leave your mark on the internet world each day… Then imagine how much you’ve put out there in the past several years. Everything we do is connected; it’s all saved in the archives of cyber world that I won’t even pretend to understand. I have an entire folder on my bookmarks bar dedicated to social media sites – I have chosen to join all of these sites, I decided what personal information to share, and I allowed people to connect with me. It’s been my choice up until this point… Shouldn’t I also be able to make the decision to maintain a certain level of privacy, or did I give that up when I logged in?!

So, here’s the big question of the day (and perhaps of our time): Is privacy possible?

In an effort to guide this conversation, I’d like to present two opinions on this topic from leaders in the social media world. According to Pete Cashmore, Founder and CEO of Mashable, “Privacy is dead, and social media hold the smoking gun.” In his article for CNN, he discusses the shift of social media sites to becoming less and less focused on privacy measures with the general mindset of: why would you put it online if not to share it? Cashmore also presents the idea that there is perhaps a greater cost of not sharing than the struggle one encounters to preserve privacy or remain absent from the online public world. A concurring opinion worth mentioning is that of Reid Hoffman, Executive Chairman and co-Founder of LinkedIn, who expressed in a meeting where “Social media giants survey their growing kingdom” that “The value of being connected and transparent is so high that the roadbumps of privacy issues are much lower in actual experience than people’s fears.” Thus, both opinions point to privacy as a moot point in a world where the goal is to share. Is the sentiment of these gentlemen true for you? Is it worth it to expose personal information on the internet for the potential gain of new connections and relationships? How about we look at this issue through the lens of the organizational sphere… It’s all of a sudden much more understandable that your nonprofit organization could lose out by not being visible on social media sites. After all, how else would you raise awareness about your cause or spread your ideas to new constituents?! Can we stay connected and still pick and choose what we want to share? The struggle for privacy is far from being over.

Google definition of "privacy"

Google definition of “privacy”

Now that I’ve eased you into this, it’s time to break the news… Privacy just doesn’t exist on the internet. It can’t. It breaks the rules of connecting. It defies the point of sharing. Every time Facebook has rolled out with new privacy settings or some new layout, you may have done some serious social network housecleaning and made sure all your privacy preferences are up-to-date. With new technological advances, however, that’s not going to matter too much anymore. According to an article titled “Facebook Graph Search Didn’t Break Your Privacy Settings, It Only Feels Like That,” with the new Facebook Graph Search, more of your information could be exposed than you’re necessarily willing to share, regardless of your privacy settings. After all the removing things from your Timeline and making sure to block your boss and your grandmother, the embarrassing/inappropriate/unattractive/whatever-it-is content will be quite easily accessible with the ease of a search tool. But let’s revisit Cashmore and Hoffman’s thoughts… Isn’t the point to share? Isn’t it all worth it just to be able to participate? Sure, you may want to choose who you share things with. I get that. But you just can’t risk putting something on the internet anymore unless you are willing to allow the world to read it. If you represent an organization and need some guidance on this new playing field, here are some questions you can ask yourself before you share content on social media sites.

Image provided by PEI Social Media

Image provided by PEI Social Media

OK, are you wondering at this point how this all connects to bravery? Here goes… The idea that we are expected to still be present and engage in social media in spite of the non-existence of privacy is where bravery comes in. Perhaps now we should pose a new question: Are we brave enough to abandon privacy measures (or let them abandon us) and continue our internet presence? Will we still open up and expose our thoughts, ideas, and dreams with the world watching? Truthfully, we should consider social media sites as open spaces where people go to share information, connect through commonalities, and communicate transparently. It’s our choice to participate openly or be nonexistent, to uncover ourselves or become irrelevant. This, my friends, requires an immense amount of bravery. In the absolutely beautiful and brilliant words of Chris Brogan, “Bravery is a muscle, like love. You have to exercise it constantly or it will turn flabby.” Every time you sign on to a social media site, you should have a growing awareness of your presence and know that you will leave a trail of virtual footprints in your path. You will never be able to control exactly who engages your content, but you can choose what they see. Before you post, tweet, pin, or like, you have to make the choice to be brave. If you want to make a change, inspire someone, or spread the word, it all starts with how much you’re willing to share. Take down your guard of privacy settings; they don’t exist. Now, how brave are you?

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