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Facebook, fun, useful but…

According to Facebooks advertising projections (on Feb 16 2010) over 51% of Canadians and 46% of Brits are on Facebook (The day before it was only 49% and 45%).  Those figures have increased dramatically since I started recommending social media guidelines for Wycliffe organisations.

See http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/ for latest figures but last time I looked a staggering 9% of the world population is reported to have a facebook account.

Facebook and Twitter are definitely part of mainstrem culture and have even been credited for helping overthrow a government or two recently. I remain a great fan of social media, but I wonder if some people give out too much information…

That may seem strange given the amount of information available about us on this website but the main difference is that I know that anyone can see this.

For those of you who have been using social media ‘forever’ (or two or threeyears for those who can remember), the following advice may seem a little old hat. But if you are just getting on board, allowing your kids to sign up, or helping your gran customise her profile and security settings here are a couple of things to think about. 

The danger of Facebook and so many other sites that have appeared in the last couple of years is in assuming that you are only sharing information with friends that you trust. Facebook does have various levels of security but it’s important to know what they are, how to use them, and that Facebook makes no promises that it’s security measures will actually keep the stuff you post from the people you don’t want to see it.

Would you give your photo, phone number, email address, family photos with names attached, a list of your hobbies, interests, groups, a comprehensive listing of all your friends, and access to comments friends have made to you, to a complete stranger in the street? Well most of us wouldn’t do that in person but we seem happy to do it on the web. Odd isn’t it?

Perhaps one basic rule is not to give out any information that you wouldn’t be prepared to post on a prison notice board, your future employer, or any government official of your or any other country.

Writing social media guidelines for a mission agency I spent time looking for groups associated with Christian missions work. One group exists for students with an interest in working in countries where Christian missionaries might not be welcome. Anyone who signs up to Facebook can see who all of these people are, have a complete list of their names and photos, plus many of the comments that they have made. Facebook is great for connecting these people with others who share the same passion …but it is equally accessible to anyone who doesn’t like Christian missionaries.

It is possible to make most of your information visible only to people you have classed as friends. But in an online poll 41% of people contacted by a plastic frog who’s name was an anagram of ID fraudster clicked the button to let him be their friend.

You should also be aware that unless you change the default settings just replying to someone who sends you a message in Facebook will give them access to the same details as your friends as will joining a local or work network.

Having said all that, used wisely, Facebook is fun. I’ve reconnected with quite a few people I’ve not seen in years. I’ve had good conversations and even played a few games of Scrabble with some (actually I play Lexulous which is similar but not quite as similar as it was before the makers of Scrabble objected). You get notifications of your friends latest status updates, who they have become friends with and what Facebook games they have just taken a go in (mercifully you can block information about some of these). Facebook is great for keeping in touch with a whole bunch of people at a fairly superficial level, a select few that little bit deeper, and for reminding you to pick up the phone, send an email, or just speak to people that you’ve seen around at church  now that you can put a name to that face.

Useful links are setting facebook security include:
http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=419 and http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=420

You may or may not also want to read the frequently updated Facebooks Privacy policy, Terms of Service, and Developer Policies (Facebook asks the people who develop extra fun applications to abide by some rules, but doesn’t promise that everyone will)

I also found two useful videos on YouTube a while back saying why face book and sites like it are great, and why you shouldn’t touch them with a virtual bargepoll. I’m including them as links rather than embedding them so that you can see the comments as well as the videos themselves.

Social Networking in Plain English – viewed over 800,000  times with.

Do you have Facebook? Have you thought about the privacy you put at risk? – viewed over 600 000 times (and climbing)



1. Ron F - October 12, 2007

Thanks Pete for the information and the caution here. We do need to be wise about how we use all these internet options. The YouTube links are good ones. Each one also has some other related videos that are interesting.

One guy comments that he sees Facebook as the next big thing, and much better than MySpace. While Facebook is growing it seems it still hasn’t caught up to MySpace for connections in the high school age area. And with all the info it asks for and then displays, I would think that parents would be reluctant to let their teens on. If you handle it correctly, MySpace seems to conceal minors information better than Facebook from what I’ve seen. Also, some of the scary stories from 2006 about predators and the internet did also involve Facebook, not just MySpace.

The guy in the above video also sees Facebook as being much ‘cleaner’ than MySpace. I think that is a fair assessment, especially considering that MySpace is so picture and graphically driven compared to Facebook. I have, however, seen that you can leave yourself open to some of the same pitfalls. One minor girl I know had someone post an X rated picture on her “Super-wall”. She finally had to take off the application to get rid of the picture. So those things are happening, even on Facebook.

I have also reconnected with various people using Facebook. I’ve also seen that it tends to be quite superficial. There are things I like about the groups feature, such as the posting of events and such. And the private groups have some promise as well. Pluses and minuses! Let’s keep the discussion going.


2. Eddie - October 12, 2007

Good stuff Pete. Personally, I’m fairly concerned about the way that organisational names get used on FB. I’ve been trying to avoid it, but it’s pretty difficult. Dave Ker has asked some interesting questions within FB, but it’s good to see you give it an airing here.

Could we get someone from a sensitive area to sign up (without giving any info away) and then have a browse of what is easily available and to comment on it? There are a few people based around HG who are pretty hot at this sort of thing.

Wycliffe International can’t really do an information campaign, the nature of the system is that it would have to come from local offices – though Int could inform them.

Changing tack – hope to see you in Calgary before too long!


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