Friday, May 18, 2012

Facebook Users Beware

A lot of changes have happened since my last post which I'll leave for another day, but this post has been building for a couple of months, and I've been itching to say it. It has been over a year since I've posted to my blog, but there are some posts worth ending my hiatus (though this one has been in my notebook waiting for two days as I debated whether I should publish it).

Facebook users, beware. Facebook is exploiting you for their own advertising and promotions when you may not even be aware of it. Your online reputation may be at stake.  I may lose friends over this, or people may sneer and tell me to get the proverbial stick out of my own eye. But you need to be aware of what information Facebook is revealing about you, and what you can do to stop it.
I admit it. I am in a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love how I can read news stories and ignore a nightly newscast. I love keeping in touch with friends and family and seeing pictures from their children and families. On the other hand, I have learned some things about people I wish I hadn't seen, and as a result, I have learned to hide or unfriend people who are vitriolic in their spews and rants of hatred and complaining.

Lately, however, my eyebrows have raised over even more people, and it's through no fault of their own--whom Facebook has placed in a questionable light. It's all because of their online viewing activity which Facebook publishes (along with items people don't intend to publish). I admit it's also because of my all too often dour judgmental attitude, but there are some statuses, pictures, activities, articles, and videos people view online in which I'd rather not know friends held an interest.  

I know, sometimes curiosity gets the better of you, and you are tempted to click on a link. Unless you are okay with your social media world knowing your every move, be careful what links you click on inside your Facebook news feed. Google what news you see, and click on that link OUTSIDE of your Facebook feed.

If you read my rant about "liking" things in Facebook, you realize some people may think you condone foul language of a questionable poster or the content by liking a status or picture. A friend of mine once "shared" a photo from a person/page which had bad language (not in the photo, but in "who" posted the photo).  This was displayed at the bottom of the funny picture, and as a result, it showed up on my friend's timeline--picture, foul language, and all. I am sure she didn't know the language would show up on her feed, if she even saw the words herself. But I know this friend would NOT have shared or liked said photo if she had known the foul language at the bottom would be displayed on her behalf.

Not clicking the "Like" (or it’s big brother “Share”) button used to keep you out of trouble on Facebook. But now, you don't have to "Like" something for the world to see you viewed something. One of the biggest culprits to such exposing activity of late is the app/website "Socialcam." I get multiple messages daily showing how people have watched videos on Socialcam, and quite frankly, some of those videos I'd be ashamed to admit I'd ever seen based on the caption and image shown on the news feed. I refuse to add such an app to my Facebook account, so if there ever is a decent video Socialcam has available, I search for the title on Google and watch it elsewhere.

Another tricky area on Facebook is the newest "Trending Articles" feature. I really don't want to know if you are interested enough to read about Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, or Jessica Simpson... or any other celebrity fodder or outlandish or cruel news story on the Internet. If you click on those articles on Facebook, then be prepared for Facebook to throw you under the bus and tell your social world you've read it. No, it doesn’t label you as a fan or freak, but it may reveal how you value your time. Washington Post and Yahoo News both post what stories you've read on their websites now if you happen to click on those articles through Facebook. A Google search will get the same articles, but without you displaying those activities to Facebook.

I certainly don't intend to come across as though I am self-righteous or holier than thou. Come on over to my house and you will see I'm far from perfect (or even good) as a homemaker or mom, and I'm no perfect Christian (no one is). I’ve made my own Facebook gaffes, and I'm sure I'll make some more in the future. The key is, be cafeful. In a world where professional careers can so often teeter on the activities displayed with one’s online presence, and more importantly, what one’s activity may say about personal life and faith, why submerse to the baseness of some of the petty displays online which Facebook has become so good at promoting? The image we display online is as important now as what we display in person. Displaying a poor image online may be a deciding factor in some real life activity later on, whether it's from what you read/view, or what you display of yourself (i.e., an over-the-top party girl/guy image may cause someone to lose a potential job offer).  A poor image online may be the equivalent of a punked-out, overly tattooed and pierced rock star wannabe trying to get a job as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  

Appearance DOES still mean something, whether you are trying to get a job (outside of a night club) or whether you are trying to show the world the love of Jesus through ourselves.

I know appearances should not matter. We’ve all been bombarded with the saying “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.” But why give anyone the opportunity to even think anything other than the image we’d like to project of ourselves? We allow our outward appearance--whether it is our personal appearance or our online persona--certain liberties we have chosen for ourselves, and like it or not, it gives other people an impression of us. Don't let Facebook give any wrong impression of you.

There are so many ideas and promotions which are better to advertise online.  Encouraging quotes, and Biblical teaching are two which come to mind. Take a look at what my friend Toni Birdsong and her friend Tami are doing over at @stickyJesus. They have great tips about evangelizing online. They have even co-authored a book about the subject. What better way to use social media than to spread the Good News?

So how do you solve the "Big Brother" eye of Facebook from following your every move? If you value your privacy online, perhaps this post (and comments) by the folks over at Lifehacker can give you some idea of how to stop Facebook from following your every move. I read this morning Twitter is now falling into the same practice as Facebook. The easiest way is to stop using as many Facebook social apps as possible (at least the ones you don't want posting on your behalf). I still have three I use regularly, but I revoke those apps posting for me without my actively sharing any activity with them.

As my husband (who looks for an easy fix) would say, maybe I should shun Facebook entirely. Yes, I've been known to take a hiatus and hang out primarily on Twitter for my social networking fix. Some good things come from Facebook, though, which I can't ignore, and it does have its place on the Internet. We should make sure we allow Facebook to reveal what is good and true about ourselves, and not allow it to brand us in a negative way.

Be vigilant, my friends. Facebook will not get any better. It was offered in an IPO on the NASDAQ today, which means now a board of directors and shareholders will expect profits, which means more advertising and more exposure, meaning more exploitation of its users. The next time you click on an item on Facebook, whether it’s a “Like” or a link, make sure Facebook will promote the image YOU want.

UPDATE (6/12/12):  Today I was searching on how to remove Socialcam posts from other friends' activity showing up on your timeline? This very helpful article shows you how to block any posts by other apps on your Facebook feed. Note, it must be done on a laptop or desktop. I checked my iPhone app, and the ability to manage which apps are blocked is not possible with the mobile app. Now I finally don't have to think less of anyone be exposed to other friend's weird curiosities.

As always concerning Facebook, be on your guard:  Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, is quoted in this CNN article as saying, "Imagine a world where we share everything--what we eat, what we read, how far we run, and what music we listen to." There are apps that already do all of these things.  Keep this question in mind before using such apps:  How much do you want the rest of the world to know about your entire life?

I still stand by my original resolve. Run from Socialcam. This article from The Washington Post underlines the real truth of the matter. Monica Hesse reminds us of the "garbage in, garbage out" idea, and that these apps expose to the world what you thought you were doing in private. That does allow for some self-reflection. Even if you are able to hide any articles or videos you read from the rest of the Facebook world, remember that there is One who knows. Keep Jesus as your center of focus, and the evils of this world seem less tempting.
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