Royal Oak, MI coach Jason Windsor resigned recently after soccer parents circulated copies of Windsor’s inappropriate Facebook profile postings. This issue bumps debate over inflammatory Facebook postings. How public is Facebook? What posts should be avoided? In the Royal Oak incident, the coach had allegedly used his Facebook status to announce team member cuts and to post barbed comments about parents on his team. Windsor claims his account was hacked and his resignation was unrelated to the Facebook flap. Whether Windsor resigned over the Facebook flap or not, postings on public, social journals bears further investigation. The Royal Oak is by no means the first incident where posts on a Facebook or other social network have caused personal, professional or relationship issues. And the questions beg asking: How public is Facebook? Is there such a thing as social website privacy?
To answer the first question, “How public is Facebook?” let’s explore the findings of a little experiment. If you have a Facebook or other online social journal, try Googling your name. There is a very good chance that not only your Facebook profile, but also comments and posts you have made, will show up somewhere on the search. Comments made in online forums and social websites do not disappear into cyberspace. Even if you have removed a comment or posting, it still exists, at least for a time, somewhere online. Privacy and internet are mutually exclusive. Even if you set your profile to ‘private’ much of your online activity can be tracked. This isn’t conspiracy theory, government interference or invasion of privacy; it’s a plain cold fact that what you put on the web, stays on the web. It’s the nature of the beast. That’s why publishing anything, even Facebook updates and comments is called going ‘live’.
To answer the second question, “Should Facebook postings be private?” the answer is, “Why make something public and ask it to remain private?” People post on Facebook and other social sites, what they want others to know. If they didn’t want others to know it, if they didn’t want it made public, they would not post it. If you want to sell a car, you put a sign on a bulletin board to let others know it’s for sale. That’s exactly how Facebook works, except that the posting can’t be taken down so easily.
The secret to success is ‘common sense’ and ‘common courtesy’. Facebook can, will and should pull profiles of cyber-bullies and violators of Terms of Service. Play safe, smart and nice in the sandbox and everyone wins.