Privacy is rare these days. With social media, the Internet, and other media sucking in and spitting out content every second, literally no one can evade being consumed by the virility of the digital age. When social media sites were on the rise in the early 2000s, the culture of ‘sharing,’ ‘liking, and ‘posting’ exploded. Thoughts, expressions, and opinions are shared constantly on sites like Facebook and Twitter, but site users do not realize the impact of their social media use. These platforms are built on the First Amendment, promoting the ideals of freedom of speech, but let’s be real, social media is a business. They thrive on sponsors and advertisements that use social media sites as an opportunity to reach specific consumers with NSA-level of demographic accuracy, which we give away willingly along with our photographs and lifestyle preferences.
Every like. Every share. Every comment is calculated to determine the user as a certain buyer and that is advantageous for B2C and B2B corporations. Social media is evolving advertising, as advertising is funding social media. But with recent questions of privacy laws and regulations in social media, it seems like the topic of unregulated content has become the new age debate and may effect the social media business.
The Elonis vs. United States case is just the beginning of the evolving debate on whether social media should be regulated or not. The Supreme Court voted in favor of Anthony D. Elonis for his threatening posts on Facebook, but the trial tested the limits of how far the law can go in prosecuting someone for online posts. In Elonis’ case, the posts were not justifiable for prosecution but will the standard for threats and zealous accusations need to evolve to keep up with technology?
People can be cruel and audacious when guarded by the veil of social media, Elonis, a prime example. And the recent case of Facebook posts displaying graphic photos of battered women, promoted sexual harassment and physical abuse, undermine the better intentions of the social media site.
Fortunately, these photos with captions that demeaned women cannot be found on Facebook anymore. A campaign, by UK activists, to have those posts taken down gained so much attention that companies like Nissan UK and Nationwide UK suspended their advertisements on Facebook, after realizing their Ads had randomly appeared next to those offensive posts. Under pressure, Facebook stated their intolerance of such content, pulled it off the site, and even revised their guidelines.
Avoidable? Completely. Facebook is a private company, allowed to regulate the content produced on their site, set guidelines for unfavorable content, but why did it take for advertisers to pull out their Ads for Facebook to start regulating? Perhaps the ideals of freedom of speech need to be protected, but the people exploiting social media to make threats or be offensive should be held accountable and expect to be faced with scrutiny and liability. If anything, these posts shouldn’t even make it onto the site.
Elonis escaped prosecution now, but would he in five, ten years? Social media is no longer a chat room where people can state opinions with no repercussions. It is an extension of current social life and honestly a business that needs to uphold standards. It is not to be taken lightly anymore and people need to understand that privacy on Facebook is nonexistent. So as an advice for the future, think before you post.
By Melanie Hsu, an Intern at the Borenstein Group – Washington DC’s Expert B2B Digital Communications Agency. Melanie studies at American University, majoring in International Business and Marketing.