Being online most of my waking hours, I often think of the identity trail I’m leaving around the web and the issues that has in terms of my privacy.
However, I’ve seldom stopped to think how my activities may affect the privacy of my nearest and dearest.
Tonight, as we in the newsroom sought to follow up on reports that named two girls who have been murdered in Ladywood, it was the latter that struck home.
One of the girls had kept her pictures and her profile public to the West Midlands network. Her sister had been more careful, but there was enough there (her profile pic) to identify her in her sibling’s pics. Family and friends were also listed publicly as “friends” in both profiles.
Now as a journalist trying to piece together the story, that is just the sort of easy-to-access information that you are hoping to find. It is invaluable in illustrating the humanity behind the story and I would always suggest a journalist checks Facebook for stuff like that.
Also, through the friend list, you can message people who know the victims that may want to comment. I know this partly because I used that technique in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech tragedy.
Yet if I happen to pop off this mortal coil in some unusual or violent manner, as a daughter, a sister, a cousin and a friend I have no inclination to subject those I care about to Facebook messages from journalists. It wouldn’t matter how courteous, apologetic or sensitive (all the things I try to be) they were.
So tonight I have made my friends list only viewable to my friends and not to my network.
“Hypocrite!” I hear you cry. Well, perhaps. But also I am aware that if you put things on the web you have to realise that they can be quoted, copied and published elsewhere.
I would expect a good journalist to track down tons of information about me that already exists in the flotsam and jetsam floating around the Internet. I would just like to reduce the amount they hassle my friends in order to do so.
It also makes me think that there needs to be some practical education in Internet privacy so that people understand the ramifications of leaving some of their personal life open to the public.
It also raises the question of whether it is ethically sound for Facebook to make full profile privacy an “opt-in” function rather than an “opt-out”.