March - April 2018

Written by Mark Evilsizor
From his column Church Tech

Since the inception of social media we periodically ask ourselves if the cost is worth the benefit, and it appears that we are going through one of those times again. We recently learned that by accepting an invitation to participate in a seemingly harmless personality test on Facebook, we opened ourselves and our friends up to receive political messages based on our fears and desires. Unfortunately, this is just one revelation of how our personal online activities are being monitored and shared by companies like Facebook, and it leads us to consider what steps we can take to safeguard our electronic privacy.

One approach is to delete your Facebook account. Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, decided to do just that. There are several benefits to this approach. Your social interactions with Facebook will no longer be accumulating for those with access to the data to review and use. You may also find yourself happier. Studies have shown that those who spend time away from social media, have an increased sense of well-being and contentment. You might also find that you are better informed. A New York Times reporter recently spent two months getting his news exclusively from multiple print newspapers. He found that by slowing down the receipt of news, and by removing access to urgent breaking stories and articles promoted in his social media feeds, he gained a deeper, more accurate understanding of what was going on in the world. He also freed up enough time to take up pottery!

Our personal online activities are being monitored and shared by companies like Facebook.

However, there are benefits to social media and Facebook involvement which you may not be prepared to walk away from. Through social media I have gained a connection with distant relatives whom I may not see in person very often. Facebook can also come in handy in times of need, like to borrow a recipe or ladder, or to check on the welfare of a distant friend during a natural disaster.

It can also be a tool to rally people to a cause, as we have recently witnessed with the passionate high school students using it to engage in the political process. Indeed, the fact that dictators often attempt to block social media points to their fear of its influence. This could be seen when officials in China banned the letter “N,” as well as any mention of Winnie the Pooh, in an attempt to mute discussion of the revocation of term limits for President Xi Jinping.

So what can you do if you want to remain in Facebook and retain some privacy? Begin by pruning the list of Facebook apps you may have given access to over the years. If the app was free, the company is likely making money from your data. In the top right corner of the Facebook web page, click on the small down arrow, and then click on the Settings option. From this page, click on the Apps and Websites option in the left-hand pane. You may be surprised at how many apps or websites have accumulated in your account. Review them and remove any that you do not want to receive your information by selecting the X in the top right corner of the box. If you have not done so in a while, review your friends. Some third-party apps gain access to your data through friends, and you may have accepted requests from strangers who are working their way through your network. This is a good time to assess and clean house. I also recommend that when a site offers to allow you to “Log in with Facebook,” choose no. It may take a little more time to set up an account with another site, but for me this is preferable to putting more of my tracking information in the same social media basket.

Lastly, be careful about what you post. One approach is to assume that whatever you post on social media will be available to everyone. It’s a good idea to consider how breaches happen, mistakes are made, and friends reshare. Don’t post anything you would not want everyone (friends, future employers, church community, neighbors, your mom) to see.

Using social media comes with benefits and costs. Be informed, and choose the balance of privacy and sharing that is best for you.

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.