Wednesday, September 1

Pro-tip: Facebook IS an Internet service, not your own personal playground.

The Associated Press carried this story about a juror who updated her Facebook status, before the trial was over, to say they (the jury) were going to enjoy finding the defendant guilty. The defense attorney discovered what the juror had posted, and things got ugly from there.

First off, let me explain to you how I think the defense attorney found out what the juror had posted. There’s this nifty little free service from Google called Alerts. This gem lets you turn Google into your own research department. You just tell Google what you want to search for and how often to look, and Google emails you with whatever it finds. Because Google is constantly indexing the Internet, Alerts is a fantastic way of making certain you know the minute something is said about you or something you have an interest in. Like, I don’t know, maybe a trial you were working on?

Disclaimer: I have no idea whether the defense attorney used Google Alerts or not. But if I were a defense attorney, I would sure as heck put in search terms about my case, including the names of jurors. Why not? It only takes a minute to scan the emails Google sends you, and you don’t have to remember to search for things manually.

“But, how did Google pick up on the juror’s Facebook status?” you ask. Ah! Good question. Facebook’s “Recommended” privacy setting is for your status, photos, and posts to be public. (Also your bio and favorite quotations, and your family and relationships.) It’s easy enough, of course, to change this. But a lot of people don’t. In fact, Facebook would prefer that you didn’t. To be fair, they would say this is to make using the service “more social,” and that’s true. But I don’t care to share what I’m doing, or pictures of my kids, with “society.” If I’ve requested to be your Facebook friend, or I’ve accepted your request to be mine, it’s because I actually do know you. And every time I accept a request, I ask myself “would I care if this person knew the kinds of things I put on my Facebook page?” (I click Ignore, often.)

All that being said, I think there is a bigger issue here. People who use Facebook and Twitter regularly become comfortable with them. When you post status updates or tweets and your friends comment or reply, it gives you that warm, fuzzy, “connected” feeling. As it should. That’s what social networks were designed to do – give people a feeling of being connected with their friends, even though you might be separated by thousands of miles. However, the insidious nature of feeling comfortable makes you feel like it’s just you and your friends. You begin sharing things you shouldn’t (something the blogosphere has begun to call “over-sharing”), and you forget that anyone else using the Internet is, in effect, reading over your shoulder.

I have a friend at the Advanced Media Network, where I work on the Into Tomorrow show, who lives his life on social networks (hi, Rob!). He blogs, he facebooks, he tweets, he checks in on foursquare, and if something’s happening where he is – there are pictures of it, with video to follow. That’s not wrong, because that’s how he’s chosen to live his life. He knows you’re all watching, and he wants you to. That’s the whole point of posting. He doesn’t have to remember that social networks are public, because he’s counting on it.

It’s the rest of us (or maybe you?) who need to remind ourselves. Check your privacy settings on Facebook. Remember that Twitter is just ALWAYS public. Even text messages won’t STAY private, if you get yourself in any real trouble. Just ask Tiger Woods.

And remember – Google is always watching.

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