Facebook the frenemy

Kelsey Rohwer

Facebook content lingers long after deletion, and friends aren’t the only ones who can see it.

There is no doubting that we all love Facebook.

Our love of Facebook comes from our love of sharing, and on Facebook, everything from pictures to our relationship status is up for grabs. As college students, we have never really questioned the idea that it’s just our friends we are updating with this information. But who else is keeping tabs on what we did last weekend?

At this point, the answer is anyone who wants to.

Many college students are definitely guilty of oversharing. Students at our very own university post incriminating messages on friends’ walls, or upload party pictures with those oh-so-innocent-looking Solo cups or change their statuses to describe how hungover they are. So the main issue is one of privacy. Even once someone deletes his or her Facebook long after those partying days are over, the content will remain on the web… forever.

In an attempt to get a handle on this situation, the company released a statement in the Facebook Bill of Rights and Responsibilities that says, “You own your information. Facebook does not.” Although this seems straightforward, Facebook fails to define who the “you” actually is. And this statement isn’t very comforting when we realize that though we may own the content, we can’t control how long it stays on the web or who sees it once it is there. If our Facebook fingerprints linger in cyberspace, even long after our accounts are deleted, there is no telling who will have access to that information.

Employers, for example, have been quick to catch on to this loophole in social media networks. The owner of a daycare center in my small hometown includes Googling a prospective employee in her hiring process. She claims that an interview and application aren’t enough anymore and that you can learn most about a person by what he or she puts on the web for friends to read. She once chose not to hire someone after reading the girl’s tweets about how she hated going to work.

So if these small corporations are looking you up online, one can only imagine what the larger ones are doing. A recent New York Times article revealed that even federal law enforcement and national security officials “are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet.” Essentially they want Congress to be able to wiretap all “software that allows direct peer to peer messaging.” This includes Facebook, Skype and BlackBerry.

If Facebook and other social media cannot get a handle on cyberspace ownership and allow everyone from our Barney’s manager to the head of national security onto our Facebook walls, then we are left to pick up, or rather put together, the pieces.

We have to adjust our level of privacy, and I am not talking about changing our Facebook settings. When you write things or post pictures on Facebook or Twitter, really think about who is going to have access to them. Would you want your new boss at Morgan Stanley to know that you ‘are so hungover from the keg stand marathon on Saturday’? If the answer is no, then don’t post it because, as of now, Facebook is forever.

Kelsey Rohwer is a columnist for the GW Hatchet at George Washington University.