privacy

Moving home: from Facebook to Instagram

Group photo

For seven years now I have been a dedicated Facebook user. And that’s actually a relatively short time for someone my age – I ironically (based on what I do for a living now) had a ‘I’m not joining Facebook’ rebellion. And then I realised all my friends were off to uni and I was missing out on keeping up with their lives.

So having gotten over my rebellion I became an avid Facebook user for seven very social years. Then it all changed. From having Facebook as my social media home, I recently packed up my life (my photos, events, documentation of my every last activity, my relationship, my friendships) and moved house. To Instagram.

So what was the reason for my move? It had a lot to do with the ever changing settings on Facebook that left me totally unconfident in the privacy services it was allegedly offering. It seems that by default Facebook wants to catch you out – defaulting things to public, adding new features without explaining the implications of using them, and making admin rights so complicated that it’s a challenge for people who even work in social media.

One Sunday when I realised the privacy settings on my page were not working as they had been set, I decided my home was no longer Facebook. Faced with the inadequacy of the settings (for example setting all photos to completely private; and then them proceeding to be publicly viewable), I removed all of my photos from my page.

It was in doing that I realised the thing I loved about Facebook. Unintentionally, it had become the documentation of the good times I’ve had over the past seven years – the holidays, the parties, the days out, the festivals, the spontaneous ridiculousnesses with my best friend. Did I really want to lose all of that?

At the same time I was pondering over this point, I read in the Evening Standard magazine an article about social media that really hit home for me. Being a commuter, I usually have the Evening Standard eagerly thrust in my face on a daily basis, but rarely do I pick up the magazine version. So when choosing to accept it on this  particular evening (and being a strong believer in fate), I felt this article was somewhat poignant in my current social media conundrum (also known as a #middleclassproblem – ‘I just don’t know what social media network to use’). Here’s what it said:

“It’s as if we no longer believe that being present is enough – we have to record our experience in order to validate it…”

And with this I realised that I shouldn’t lose all of my documented experiences, I should just move them. It’s now part of our behaviour – we experience something; we document it. I didn’t need to leave home for good like a stroppy teenager that’s had a fight with their parents, I could instead find a new home to document life’s experiences. Consider it like leaving home to go to uni – you have a new house, but that doesn’t mean you lose your home.

Which leads me to stop talking about the negatives of Facebook, and remember what it is good for – there’s things we are all good at, it’s just about learning what those are.

Facebook remains the quickest, most efficient mechanism for getting something out there fast. This very blog being the best example of that – I want people to read and share my blog, and luckily for me, there’s over 500 friends on Facebook who might do just that. But more importantly, the one thing that kept me on Facebook, was the group chat that I’ve had continuously live for over a year now – without the ability to real-time ask my oldest friends if my outfit is ok, what their thoughts are on the film I’ve just watched, or hear their latest relationship developments; I’m pretty sure I’d be lost.

So the intention of this post was to not just rant about Facebook’s flaws and put you all off forever, it was actually to portray that social media is very personal. Too many people talk about the latest trends and over-analyse user demographics. But really, who cares? People will pick and choose their social media behaviour to be reflective of their mood, the stage in their life they are at, and the type of thing they’ve just experienced. And it’s the cleverest brands out there that will realise this. And it’s those brands that will succeed in social media.

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It’s time to take social media seriously; and it’s not all fun and games

Safebook - staying safe online

You may read this post title and think ‘oh here she goes again’ but actually today I’m taking a different view on social media. As someone who whole heartedly believes in the benefits of social media, I also whole heartedly believe in the power of social media. And power does not necessarily mean good things.

With a generation of children and young adults who have grown up in an extremely social world, we’re looking at a dynamic outside of the school environment that we’ve never had to deal with before. A world where a small amount of playground teasing turns into a an online world of hatred and constant torment. Where hideous trends like ‘hot or not’ are causing huge amounts of already self-conscious teens to rely on their ‘friends’ to rate their appearance. And where young girls still in their school uniforms are being allowed to behave like 20-somethings flaunting themselves to whoever chooses to engage with them.

There have been so many – too many – instances over the last year alone where we’ve heard about another young person having taken their own life because of constant online torment.

I previously referred to social media and the ‘surround sound effect’. Well here it is in all it’s ugly glory – surround sound bullying.

And in my opinion, those who should be taking responsibility are shying away from what needs to be addressed, immediately. And that’s not through lack of desire, I believe it’s through lack of knowledge of whats really going on; perceived lack of ability to do anything about it (how do you control the whole internet right?), and genuine fear of the repercussions of taking a stand. But, how many cases of online bullying that have ultimately led to a young person feeling that they have no choice but to take their own life, does it take before we stand up and properly do something about it.

So what’s the solution? First we have to really understand the problem. What has led to a culture where this type of activity is able to harbour online seemingly uncontrolled? I believe there are three key issues:

  • Lack of supervision and moderation: We wouldn’t allow our children outside during break time with their fellow classmates, left to do entirely as they choose, without any adult supervision. This is because they don’t necessarily know the dangers that are out there, they often don’t know where the boundaries of acceptable behaviour are, and sometimes they need someone to turn to if they need a helping hand. So why are they left unsupervised online? Lack of supervision and moderation of online conversations means a small amount of ‘harmless’ teasing manifests itself into a daily torrent of abuse that the individual is unable to get away from. This is unacceptable.
  • A culture that says this is ok: This type of activity is only allowed to manifest itself for as long as its being accepted. Until someone really questions it and take a stand, it will continue. Without education, young adults will continue to behave as they currently doing, as they are naive to the longer term repercussions. This is unacceptable.
  • Social networks not taking responsibility: There was once a time not so long ago where Facebook was quick to shut you down if the cover photo on your fan page had text covering greater than 25% of its area. They were quick to spot that. But they don’t seem too quick to spot potentially harmful messages posted between members in the network it created. I understand that policing social networks is a seemingly impossible task – where does the responsibility begin or end? But, doing nothing? This is unacceptable.

So there’s the problem; how do we find a solution? In my opinion three key groups have to stand up and take action: parents, schools and the social networks themselves. Now I am probably in no position to preach about what should or shouldn’t be done – I don’t have children, I’m not a head teacher and I certainly don’t own a social network. But one day I will have children, I have a little sister (although she’d hate for me to call her that) who has grown up in this very social world I’m talking about, I’ve so far spent the majority of my life in a school, and I like to think I know a lot about social networks.

So here’s what I think needs to be done:

Parents
It is the responsibility of a parent to educate, protect and encourage the best from their children. Just as for brands and companies, the birth of social media brought crazy new parameters to communication and a new overwhelming world to which parents had little to no experience in. They didn’t understand it, didn’t know what to tell their children about it, and believed it to be merely another form of communication. Years on, many parents are on these social networks and understand how their children use them – even policing them from afar. But what about those that don’t?

Parents need to take the time to educate their children on what’s right and what’s wrong when it comes to engaging in social media. They need to teach them how to feel safe; when to bring an adult into a situation – when to hit that ‘report’ button.

How can we hope for things to change if parents don’t take this first step towards protecting their children?

Schools
But it’s not all resting on the shoulders of parents. Some schools are taking action in the area of online safety – and it’s good – but it’s not enough. Talks are being held with both parents and children, but they are not compulsory and they are assuming a certain amount of knowledge of social media to start with.

But it’s not all bad news, Childnet International are a non-profit organisation aiming to make the internet ‘a great and safe place for children’. Aimed at young people, teachers and parents, the organisation aims to do exactly what is needed in this area – educate and provide the necessary tools to keep young people safe online.

Friday saw Safer Internet Day where a number of schools around the country dedicated part of their curriculum to educating their pupils about the potential dangers of the social world, and how to stay safe. This is good – and some of the initiatives were really excellent – but this shouldn’t fall to one day a year. I’d like to see this as a dedicated curriculum piece throughout the year, from a very young age. With 59% of 11-12 year olds having a social media profile, they need to understand what they are doing from that very age.

And it’s not just about learning how to stay safe – that is really just theory. And it also assumes that ‘staying safe’ means being wary of adults posing as peers. But what about peers? Some of the worst stories we’ve heard over the last year have been due to online bullying by classmates. For this, it’s not about learning to be safe, it’s about there being repercussions for those individuals who assume that hiding behind a keyboard makes their behaviour is ok. These repercussions have to fall under the remit of schools when the event is an extension of what is happening in the school environment.

Social networks themselves
And then finally it’s the responsibility of the networks that are hosting and harbouring these activities. There needs to be greater accountability for the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. And steps in the right direction are being made. Following the inquest into the tragic death of Tallulah Wilson who killed herself after extensive activity on self-harm pages on Tumblr, Culture Secretary Maria Miller is this week unveiling at the cabinet meeting a call for social media companies to transform how they police their sites. This call will see representatives from a host of social networks hopefully form consensus about responsibilities in policing and removing offensive, potentially harmful posts.

It is the likes of these individuals who understand the blurred lines where our offline lives meet our online lives – why is what would be considered beyond unacceptable – even illegal – in an offline environment, are we having to accept as ok in a social environment.

So let’s hope that this drives change; let’s hope social networks stand up and take things seriously, and that legislation is brought in to police social networks better and protect those that are most vulnerable within them. Let’s hope that both parents and schools step up to their responsibilities of education and implementing repercussions. Because it’s not one person’s responsibility – none of these things will work in silo – change will only be seen if all three parties step up and take action to change the culture that we seem to have found ourselves in.

As children leave the likes of Facebook because their parents are on there, it’s no longer enough to be there too. You can’t follow them round the internet, but you can make them smarter internet users. Social media will not go away – and I’m glad about that because of the good that it can bring – but this is an area that needs to change.This will change because it has to. No question about it.

New year, new destinations, new focus

You may have noticed somewhat of an absence of new content on here, and having declared reform in my last post, it seems I haven’t followed through.

But new year means new starts, right? And with that I’m bringing a new 2014 focus to my blog – still talking about everything to do with social media, but taking it on a bit of a world tour. So armed with my iPad, a 2 hour plane journey ahead of me and Instagram, I give you my first social media #ViewFromThePlane.

photo (1)A snowy Munich #ViewFromThePlane

I want this to be a series documenting the places I’m going to be lucky enough to visit this year, taking a look at how social media differs around the world. Many people make the mistake of thinking that social media is a one size fits all type channel, but there’s a whole world of social networks out there waiting to be explored.

So first stop, Germany. Not hugely exotic you may say, but actually pretty interesting from a social media perspective. From what was initially a relatively slow start, social media is now very much mainstream for the German population, and with this has come a shift away from a more reserved attitude to sharing personal information in a social environment. One of the reasons social media uptake wasn’t as rapid in Germany as it was in other markets was the concept of opening up ones life to people you didn’t necessarily want to share with. You wouldn’t tell everyone at a party everything you’d done in the last week, so why do it online?

But looking at the social trends in Germany, we see this mindset is very much shifting – for at least a significant proportion of internet users. And looking at the top sites used its very much leaning towards those that are geared up for personal connections without the unsolicited intrusion that was first associated with social media (yes Facebook, no matter how much you try to trick us into making our content public, we will prevail). Unsurprisingly the top sites are Facebook, YouTube and Google+, but I’m not that interested in those (although interestingly German is seeing a greater usage of Google+ compared to its European counterparts); what I am interested in is those local networks.

First up we have wer-kennt-wer.de (Who-Knows-Who) – the second largest network in Germany, and particularly popular amongst the non-academic in the south of Germany. But the recent plateau in page visits is suggesting that the community has reached a saturation point. Stayfriends.de has suffered a similar fate – what was the third most popular social network in Germany in 2012, is now too seeing a decline in members engaging within the network. With 5.6 million members it’s still a game player, but the game may be taking an extended half time break.

And then there’s the trend being mimicked that we saw across the rest of Europe (and the world) of the younger generation taking offence at seeing their parents on Facebook and consequently leaving it for something far cooler and newer to the social world. In Germany, the platforms the kids are flocking too is schuelerVZ where you’ll see almost exclusively high school students.

So why the social media uptake now? Well of course time has been a good stamp of approval – a slow and steady uptake has meant those observers have sat back and seen that actually you don’t have to share everything with the world. And the increase in mobile usage across Germany has certainly been a contributing factor, with over 10 million people accessing social networks on their mobiles every day, social on the go has become the norm.

And looping back to the idea of privacy and data protection, it suggests a reason why these local networks are so popular. If people in Germany are choosing their social networks based on the available privacy settings and how safe they perceive their data to be, then there is perhaps comfort in going where others are – safety in numbers.

So what can we learn from our cleverly cautious friends in Germany (clever in the fact that they watched others make social mistakes, learnt from them, and then did social at their own pace)? Other than of course Facebook is dominating, the main learning for me is the importance of understanding culture and behaviour. We may think we all behave the same because geographically we’re very closely linked, but don’t be fooled by that short plane trip; we don’t all need to share a selfie every three minutes.

Next stop, Belgium.

#ViewFromThePlane

How private is private?

Privacy

Anyone who has a twitter account will have heard about the security breach this week, with hackers gaining access to user data from 250,000 accounts. This has got me thinking about security and privacy with social media in general – how much of what we put online is really ours? Now I don’t mean that hacking is acceptable – it’s absolutely not – but what about the information we willingly share on our profiles? Are we forsaking our right to privacy if we choose to share our photos, our thoughts, our activities and relationships; ultimately our lives?

I think there’s privacy in a variety of senses. There’s the expected privacy that random strangers aren’t looking through the pictures of your summer holiday to Ibiza. But what about if it’s a ‘friend of a friend’ type scenario? Does that still count as a stranger? Then there’s the type of privacy that I’m sure my 15-year-old sister requires, and that’s for my mum not to have any idea what she’s up to! But I go back to my first point: you can set all the privacy settings you like, but ultimately you are posting personal content to a place that technically can be accessed, in one way or another, by 2.5 billion people. In a world of posting and sharing, how can we really control what happens to information and content that we perceive to be ‘ours’?

This, however, should not be a deterrent for social media use; it’s what should be embraced. Know it, accept it, understand it and positively exploit it. Use it the right way, and this very nature of ‘no walls’ is what we, as social media lovers, use for a whole host of reasons. The access to conversations, information and peers at the touch of a button, is what makes social media so successful. Really I think it’s just a common sense call. It’s as simple as take your ‘is this for public knowledge’ filter from your offline actions, and use it online.

Privacy is something I think we are still learning and negotiating every day both on a personal level and as part of the work we do on a daily basis. Ultimately, whether we like it or not, and indeed whether we agree or not, the whole point of social networking – as I referenced in my very first post – is about sharing. So to answer my own question, I don’t think it’s really a question of who ‘owns’ your content, it’s who has the right to share it. And the answer to that is, really, anyone who comes into contact with it.

Now, this isn’t a cautionary tale – far from it; I sort of love that nothing is secret anymore – it’s just something to bear in mind before hitting that post button. Just think, would it be ok if your (*insert scary authoritative person in your life*) sees it? If you have to ask this question, the answer is probably no.

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