Thursday, August 18, 2011

An Open Letter to Facebook Users

Forgive the diversion. I'll try to make it brief but I hope that when you finish reading this, you will at least think twice before hitting the button that immediately publishes all of the pictures on your phone/SD card from any event to Facebook.

I'm a Facebook user. I use it for my personal needs, not for this blog. I joined at the urging of former colleagues and close friends and have found it a nice way to locate people I've known in the past and to a certain extent, it's become the least invasive way to get in touch with people I would like to send a note to, when I don't have their current phone number or email. People are nice and people publish cute pictures that bring back memories sometimes. In that regard, Facebook has been a fantastic tool for keeping friendships alive.

The story I am going to share with you started with a simple outing where old friends met and people took a lot of pictures. In the digital age, I fault noone for snapping away until their SD card is full but I do miss keeping memories available to a select few. Technology has made it so easy to share. In this age of flash celebrities, people brazenly publish pictures of themselves, their kids, their dogs, on Facebook, for the world to see. How many truly use the security and privacy settings available to them? How many know how to use it properly? If you keep your albums viewable only to people you trust, I salute you. If not, I urge you try to learn how.

I've already felt the implications of people mindlessly publishing photographs on Facebook. My local YMCA now prohibits taking photographs during athletic classes. This means that when my daughter is at gymnastics, I'm not allowed to snap a single memory of the event. They have this rule in writing and it was explained to me that the rule was created because people put pictures on Facebook.

In my family, my husband and I have agreed that we will not publish pictures of each other and our daughter on Facebook, except on occasions where we can share albums of expressly-selected pictures to the people we love and only to the people who we mean to see the pictures. This was my husband's idea and I stood by it because I saw the wisdom in the move. (I'm the only one on Facebook as he chooses not to utilize social networking tools.) On top of serious security concerns, we value our privacy and would rather not open ourselves to both praise and criticism for pictures that we post. While having had a public life for over a decade, I don't think I've developed a thick enough skin to withstand all kinds of criticism. It takes a very special person to deal with all that. For this reason, you may see an eye, lips or nails in this blog but the only remotely recognizable face photo you may ever see of me is my tiny Twitter picture.

How easy is it to hit the button to publish each and every single photograph taken of an occasion? A friend said, it's what people do. True, but does that make it right? I've learned now that I need to tell people that if they're going to take pictures with us in it, we really do not want to have any of these pictures appear on Facebook. It's going to be a pain to have to remind people and I can't police every single album out there. But if I find something objectionable, I will not hesitate to ask that the picture be removed. The problem with Facebook is that the pictures can only be removed by the people who publish them. I don't care about tags, you know. I know pictures can be untagged. But just knowing that pictures I'd rather keep private are out there bothers me tremendously.

The incident that spurred this post involves a couple of friends who published photos of my family on Facebook without my permission. The albums were public and one of them tagged select photographs and this was how I got wind of their publishing. I consequently asked her to remove certain pictures, and particularly pictures of my husband, who was sure to become irate that people had published photographs of him online. The pictures were removed at once, which I appreciated. It took more prompting to get the other friend to remove pictures. I discovered those pictures much later because we were not asked or informed in the least that pictures were going to be posted online. I guess people don't think about doing that now. Some people seem to think that just because a picture was taken with their camera, they can do with it as they please. I hate to complain but we just don't want ourselves paraded on other people's albums on Facebook without our prior consent. And if the picture doesn't flatter anyone, why bother? Are you paparazzi?

In truth, posting terrible/defocused/pointless pictures on Facebook only says that you can't take proper pictures. Posting terrible/defocused/pointless pictures of other people on Facebook says that you're also inconsiderate. The friend I discussed this with said, what is ugly is very subjective and we tend to be harsher with our own pictures. True. So why not focus on posting beautiful memories instead of crappy ones that have no meaning?

Using Facebook is a responsibility. I ask you, please take it to heart. Some people don't want their pictures out there. I know it takes time but ask, edit, just look through all the goddam pictures and pick out some good ones instead of publishing all 700 pictures of your weekend. Then fix those privacy settings. I know I'm not the only person who will appreciate it.

1 comment:

  1. Well written my friend! I hope the other person took down the photos as well by now. I totally agree that people should not use other people's images without express permission or at least without fixing your privacy settings (the art of which I have mastered). I think privacy issues are definitely being paid attention to by the more "savvy" users but as with most education, it will take a longer time to reach the masses.