Facebook abuse

“THE family that Facebooks together, stays together,” trumpets an inane advertisement for one Internet service provider. The company, like many others, is clearly trying to ride on the popularity of the social networking site, which millions of people use to connect with friends, family members, business associates and customers.

Unfortunately, the advertising message implies that Facebook is a safe place for the entire family, when it clearly isn’t, and that ubiquitous “f” logo isn’t as friendly as it seems.

In an insightful piece on CNN, Aisha Sultan, a parenting columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Jon Miller of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, suggest that “Facebook parenting” is destroying our children’s privacy.

By frequently sharing photos and reports on their children, the authors say, well-intentioned parents have surrendered their kids’ privacy even before they’re old enough to make their own choices.

“On the most basic level, we want to be able to tell our story about our lives. But, in the case of our children, a permanent and public story has already been recorded about them before they have a chance to decide whether they want to participate or even whether the narrative is true to their own vision of self,” Sultan and Miller write.

This is certainly something a parent might want to consider before mindlessly posting that “cute” photo of her toddler taking a bath. What will the child think of such sharing, when he grows up to be a tween or a teenager?

Yet a recent survey by the University of Michigan suggests that parents are posting photos and information about their children more often.

More than half (55 percent) said they have shared information or posted pictures from a vacation. Also, nearly two-thirds of parents (66 percent) reported posting pictures of their children online, and slightly more than half (56 percent) shared news of a child’s accomplishment.

“The message from parents, as witnessed from behavior, is clear,” Sultan and Miller continue. “Children grow up learning that posting pictures of one’s self and sharing personal information is typical. We’ve created a sense of normality about a world where what’s private is public. The sense of being entitled to privacy has been devalued.

“And our children will never have known a world without this sort of exposure. What does a worldview lacking an expectation of privacy mean for the rest of society?”

The situation, the authors observe, has been made not just for ourselves, but our children as well.

“More than 900 million of us (and counting) willingly participate in this exchange of information for convenience and connection. But we implicate more than ourselves in the transaction,” the authors conclude.

“We have a right for our data to not rise up and destroy us. We have a right to create our own narrative about our lives. We have a right to control how much we want the world to know about us.

“These are fundamental to our personal autonomy.

“Our children deserve the same protections.”

Sadly, it isn’t only parents who misuse Facebook. Increasingly, companies are doing so, too.

One of the most annoying practices is for a company to forgo establishing its own Web site and entrusting its online presence entirely to a Facebook page. This practice betrays a lack of professionalism and often does nothing to help customers learn more about the company or find ways to contact them. Worse, the practice forces visitors to register on Facebook, too, to learn more about a company. To visitors who are averse to doing so, this is a silly imposition that can cost the company business. If you must rely on a Facebook page alone, at the very least put meaningful contact information – an address, a telephone number or an e-mail address – on the landing page so that potential customers aren’t forced to join the social network just to get in touch with you.

It’s understandable that companies want to hitch their wagons to a site that gives them quick access to hundreds of millions of users, but before they do so, they should bare in mind that they don’t own the information on Facebook, says Brad Anderson of the Internet marketing company Fruition.

It’s sound advice that local companies should take.

“When you spend time and money on Facebook marketing you need to be driving traffic and users to a property that you own,” he writes. “Yes, you are leveraging Facebook to build your business. However you do not own the relationships with the users. Thus, you are at the whim of Facebook to determine how, where, and when you can use the data that you generate. Most companies cannot build a successful business just on Facebook; they need to drive the users to their own Web site or app to truly capture the value provided by Facebook.”

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