Did Facebook change all your settings to public? A great reminder that there’s a counterintuitive solution

A few weeks ago, my 12-year old son asked if he could have an Instagram account and, despite my inclination to remove myself from all things facebook these days, I relented on the condition that:

He create a public account and assume that there’s absolutely no privacy with his communications at all.

In other words, he’s welcome to private message with friends, but he cannot assume that anything he says or does is private. If I ask, he’s got to turn over his phone and let me read any and all messages.

So, why do I feel so comfortable with a draconian rules for my son?  

For the same reason I’ve been recommending this approach to just about everyone (adults, kids, teenagers, pets) for years and years:

And the reasoning behind this approach is my understanding that anything you say or post on a social media site could become public at some point anyway. If there’s things you wouldn’t want your kids, spouse, employer, employees, etc. seeing, don’t post it to a social media site.

Even when they have the best of intentions, coders and engineers mess up. Just last month, someone at Facebook flipped a digital switch and 14M people who thought they were publishing “private” messages on Facebook to friends had their updates made public!

OUCH!

And while it’s safe to say it’s more often than not “user error” when people post public messages they think are private, the outcome is the same whether an engineer messes up, a user screws up or a hacker grabs a massive datasets of incriminates tons of users. Messages that people think they sent to a select group of people are not public and lives are often changed in the process. .

But there’s a way to largely stay out of trouble in this environment:

Assume everything you publish on social sites is public.

There are times I’ll use privacy settings on sites (and it’s really only on Facebook)… and every time I do select “friends only” or DM someone on twitter, I make the conscious decision to post to a smaller group of people because I think the general public is not likely to find it interesting… but I always try to confirm that I wouldn’t care if this message was made public.

In the end, there’s all kinds of ways we can try to guard our privacy in a world where just about everyone is on social media… but nothing beats the obvious. If you want something to stay private, don’t publish it to a social media site.

Obviously, I have some strong opinions on the topic, but I’m always game to hear about other approaches.

Do you worry that some of the things you’ve published to social media sites could become public some day?