Blog Feature

By: Jennifer Devitt on November 18th, 2014

Could user rules for private social media users be dangerous and aid in stalking?

Social media usage is at all time high. Just keeping up with the latest platform can be daunting. Do you need to be on every platform? Who should you connect with on each of these networks? Do you use each network for business, personal use or both? And, there is always the question of how much to share and with whom.

The with whom to share is the topic of today's post. You see, I have noticed a trend in the last few months that has me perplexed as a social media user myself as well as the parent of teens on social media. My issue comes with privacy and knowing whom might be following you. I understand that if you are a public participant on social media you are agreeing to put yourself out there and share with others. Thats fine. My issue comes with how "private users" utilize the networks and what privileges they get when being private.  By now, we should all understand that what you put online, stays there and can be seen by future employers, etc. We should all use caution in what we share, and take note not to overshare. But, I also think that some privacy rights could be useful  or are be misused by people hiding behind fake names with questionable intentions.

Let's start with Instagram. Earlier this year, it was estimated that Instagram had 200 Million monthly users. On Instagram, if you are public, common sense tells you that anyone can view and like your photos, as well as follow you. That makes sense and is fine. However, on the flip side if you are "Private" only those you deem worthy can view, like and follow you. But, if you are private you can follow any public person you choose and they cannot see any anything other than your user name without requesting permission to follow you back! That is what I have a issue with. In the day of stalking, and cyberbullying how on earth can this be ok? To me, once a private person follows someone, then that person has a right to know who you are without requesting permission. What if it's a bully, a ex, a stalker, etc. What if it's someone you have no interest in following due to lack of interest, differing view points, explicit postings and so on. If you don't know someone who follows you why should you have to request permission to follow what could be a stranger or worse someone you want to avoid?

Twitter has a similar policy. Private Twitter users can follow any public user they choose. But for that public user to get a feel for who is following them permission must be granted. To me level of privacy is giving stalkers and bullies the ability to follow victims or prey on unsuspecting individuals. We all know that the user name can have nothing to do with the person's real name. So a user named say "monkeyjoe" can be a bully or ex who is trying to keep tabs on you and you would have no clue.

I understand some will say that's what happens when you choose to be public on social media. I disagree. Yes I am agreeing to be "social" on social media...gasp! But, honestly isn't that the point of social media? Pew Research reported in January that 74 percent of online adult users were on one social network or another. Now, we have all encountered the users who never post or share a thing. These people sometimes just create a account to see what it's about. Then there are those that follow their friends, associates and never share anything themselves or comment on anything.  We have all gotten those fabulous direct messages on Twitter from random people.

Let's not forget those lovely Twitter Validators. You know the ones where someone follows you, you follow back only to be requested to comply with a validation.   Now, I don't agree with how these are used. But I think they could be used in a much more beneficial manner. I think Twitter and Instagram should have a validator for private users. I think that if someone wants to be private on the networks, fine. But, if they choose to follow anyone, then they should have to be validated by the user prior to being allowed to follow. Any criminal or bully can hide behind fake accounts they make up and go private and bingo they are protected but they can follow whoever they choose. I don't agree with that.

I have a habit of immediately blocking a private individual who follows me. I choose who to follow based on relationship, common interest, something I enjoy or am a fan of, etc. I don't ever just knee jerk follow, if I did I would follow so many people and never see the things I am truly interested in.  I refuse to ask permission to follow what could be a stranger who is following me. Someone who could share things I find uninteresting or offensive. What about you? What is your social media practice? How do you feel about private users on social networks?   What protocols would you like to see for social networks and private users?

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