Lessons From Randi Zuckerberg’s Facebook Mistake

So it turns out even Randi Zuckerberg, sister to the more famous Mark and former Facebook employee, doesn’t understand Facebook privacy settings either. She thought she’d shared a photo with her nearest and dearest, but it turned out that complete strangers could see it too. (Click the link to read Gizmodo’s sympathetic take on the incident.) There’s a huge debate here as to whether Facebook is making their privacy settings too complicated or whether we just lack “human decency” as Randi would have you believe. But whilst that’s going on, here’s five things to take away from Randi’s mistake:

1. You Are The Product

Social media businesses are just that: businesses. They need to make money. Letting you share photos, videos or status updates doesn’t pay the bills. All that sharing is a carrot to get you in their door; once you’re there, they’re going to sell to you or sell you to others.

2. You’re Also The Carrot

The key to success of a social media business is a large user base. They want as many people using their service as possible. If you’re part of a social network, you work as an advert to all of your friends and colleagues, who then advertise it to people they know and so on.

3. Stories Keep Us Engaged

One of the problems Google+ had in the early days was that it was a ghost town. Nothing was going on. People signed up, had a look around and realised this party was dead.

Stories are what show up on your feeds. Geoff liked a photo is a story. Sandra checked in at the waffle house is a story. Any activity is a story and it’s something that is likely to keep you interested and engaging and clicking those like buttons. Because the more buttons you click that more data Facebook has about you that it can sell.

4. Privacy is Anathema to Social Media

Privacy settings allow you to stop yourself being a carrot and a storyteller. You can restrict certain posts to certain people, or even hide your profile altogether so that no-one can find you. But that means you’re not pulling your weight. You’re not bringing in new product and you’re not keeping it in the warehouse with your posts.

Privacy is death to a social network.

So when Facebook makes its privacy settings opaque, it’s trying to stay alive. It’s trying to keep the product productive. So it keeps the default settings to public. To keep a thing private, you have to check a dozen boxes. Which is where Randi Zuckerberg went wrong: she missed a box and allowed Facebook to create a story even though she didn’t want it to.

5. There’s No Privacy Online

Randi Zuckerberg went wrong by thinking she could put something on Facebook and keep it private. The Internet is not a small room of your nearest and dearest. It’s a huge Roman amphitheatre where the smallest whisper can be heard from every seat and the whole world has tickets. Say a word and, if it’s interesting enough, it’s spread like wildfire.

The only secret to social media is to treat it like that amphitheatre. Want to show someone an embarrassing photo? Don’t do it in the amphitheatre. Email it or use a private cloud storage facility. Any service, in fact, other than social media.

Because chances are the photo you don’t want them to see is exactly the sort of photo that they’ll love to share with everyone. And social media businesses will do anything and everything to let them do that.

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