Social media has taken the world by storm, in both a business and a personal context. More than a billion people now use Facebook, 220+ million use Twitter, and 225+ million use LinkedIn – and that’s not taking into account the numerous other different types of social media platforms, such as Vine and Instagram. There is no doubt that it has become central to our personal lives, as well as in a business context too – however, it is not without its risks. If you are going to use social media then there are a number of considerations to bear in mind.
What are the risks?
Have you ever wondered how Facebook’s market capitalisation got to more than $100.6bn? Whilst social networking sites might be free to use in terms of there being no fee, they actually take from us another very valuable commodity - information.
In the era of ‘big data’ that we are entering personal information and data on digital habits is like gold dust and this can be gathered by a social networking site and sold on and processed without our knowledge. Not all social networking sites do this, but those that don’t will often use the information they gather for fairly intrusive targeted personal advertising instead.
Social media is a very public forum. Even if you say something online and then regret it and delete it, there is no guarantee that it will have disappeared from the web altogether. It is accessible by anyone, from relatives and friends to work colleagues and your boss. It may feel as if you’re simply throwing words out into the black hole of the web, but the reality is that you may be affecting your chances of future employment, risking your current job or offending those close to you without realising it.
No matter what kind of organisation you are, if you are using personal social media accounts for promotion of your causes/business then you are not relieved of data protection liability.
The Data Protection Act 1998 enshrines the right of individuals to see the information that is being processed about them and introduces obligations on the organisations that are processing it. Individuals can see what is being processed about them by making a subject access request. However, the Act only applies in a business context and there is an exemption where an online forum is used only for domestic purposes. This will not apply where that forum is not used only for domestic purposes – so even one tweet or post that is non-domestic will mean the Act applies.
How to reduce the risks
Be sensible – this is the most obvious way to minimise the risks from your use of social media. Don’t post inflammatory comments, don’t give more information to social networking sites than is absolutely necessary and think about whether you’d want your parents/children to see a photo before you post it.
Use the available controls – most social networking websites have privacy options, however a recent survey found that more than three quarters of us simply don’t use them, despite being concerned about online privacy.
What action can you take when something is already online?
If something exists online that you really don’t want to be there then the first step is to approach the website administrator and ask for it to be taken down – if the post is a breach of the site’s acceptable use policy this shouldn’t normally be an issue. If this doesn’t work then you can contact the organisation that owns the site directly.
Whilst social media seems to have encouraged us previously to take a rather reckless approach to our personal information, we are now starting to see a backlash against privacy intrusion. Although it is almost impossible to prevent your personal data being accessed, exercising caution in using social media sites seems to be a good way to start protecting ourselves.