One of 2018’s biggest news stories was Facebook’s data breaches and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress. The conversation around it was nearly inescapable. But did it make much of a difference?
As for the rest of us: If you’re anything like me, the news just made you feel more guilty about scrolling through your Timeline. I mean, we’ve known for a long time that social media is a double-edged sword with a lot to be concerned about. It’s kind of like getting fast food after a night of drinking—you know as you’re waiting in the drive-thru line that it’s not the best choice you could make for yourself, but there’s no way you’re not going to eat that food.
For most of us, data breach is still an abstract concept, wrote Josh Constine for TechCrunch. We might also be getting desensitized to news of hacking. As breaches happen more and more, we could become less protective of our personal data. If it’s so easy to get to, is it really worth trying to guard?
Combine that with the lack of “an independent general purpose social network they can easily switch to,” and “many users have endured Facebook’s stumbles in exchange for the connective utility it provides,” Constine wrote.
If you know you won’t be deleting your Facebook account, you can protect yourself to an extent by making more mindful decisions about what you share.
1. Read the fine print
Each of the services we use online comes with a user agreement. A lot of us click “I accept” without reading what it says first. One way of taking control over what you give away online is to educate yourself, especially when the opportunity is presented to you.
“I always try to at least skim those agreements to make myself feel better about the things that I’m signing off on,” said Jennifer Epperson, product designer and editor of Blacks in Technology.
2. Does this have a place online?
If you’re uncomfortable with the Facebook news but don’t want to quit it entirely, consider scaling back what you post.
“I think before I click, and I think before I type,” Epperson said. “I ask myself when it comes to things that I may tweet or things that I may share on Facebook, is this something that I absolutely am comfortable with the entire world knowing, whether my privacy settings are set to a certain standard or not? And if they aren’t… then that’s probably a good indication for me personally that it doesn’t have a place online.”
3. Avoid Facebook Messenger
Facebook Messenger is great for talking with friends outside of the country, or with groups of people when you don’t have all of their numbers. But the chat service is not as secure as good old fashioned texting.
“SMS actually is much more secure if you actually have people’s phone numbers,” said Josh Cutler, formerly of Microsoft Live Labs and now chief technology officer at Rambl. “There actually are laws around wiretapping and things to treat that separately than digital stuff that you do on the Internet.”
4. Think about why you use Facebook
Do you want to keep Facebook for its social benefits? Professional benefits? Being mindful about why it’s valuable to you can help you make smart decisions about what you share.
“I think about even at a deeper level, what am I trying to achieve by sharing something online?” Epperson said. “I think that increasingly we’re deriving a lot of personal value out of what we share and don’t share online. I think that that’s something that should go into the decision-making.”
“America From Scratch” host Toussaint Morrison said he used to post more personal things on Facebook, but now only uses it to promote his music and film projects.
“There is a point on Facebook where you have to have, I think, a certain amount of self-awareness,” he said. “(My Timeline) got out of control, and I thought to myself, ‘How can people have this little of awareness to know that everybody is seeing this?'”
Check out the podcast if you want to hear the whole conversation
For more on the future of Facebook and our relationship with it, check out “Frontline” special “The Facebook Dilemma” on PBS.
Katie Moritz is Rewire’s senior editor and a Pisces who enjoys thrift stores, rock concerts and pho. She covered politics for the daily newspaper in Juneau, Alaska, before driving down to Minnesota to help produce long-standing public affairs show “Almanac” at Twin Cities PBS. Now she edits and writes the articles that appear on Rewire, and works with its pool of freelance journalists. She has also written episodes of PBS Digital Studios series “Sound Field” and “America From Scratch.” She’s the host of the history webseries “30-Second Minnesota,” which was nominated for an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Award. Reach her via email at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.