‘Marie Claire’ Panel Audience Directs Privacy Questions at Facebook

Left to right: Common Sense Media's Amy Guggenheim Shenkan, Facebook's Randi Zuckerberg, ESPN's Erin Andrews, Chelsea Clinton, and 'Marie Claire' EIC Joanna Coles

Last night, former first daughter Chelsea Clinton took the stage at the Hearst Tower in NYC to introduce a lively panel discussion about online privacy and education. The event was hosted by Marie Claire editor-in-chief Joanna Coles and Common Sense Media, a nonprofit dedicated to sharing information with kids and families about navigating the digital world.

Clinton said her first media memory as a kid was picking up a copy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Nowadays, of course, kids and adults are zipping around the Web, sometimes with long-term repercussions.

Though the panel was called “Social media: The perils and possibilities of living in a digital world,” the perilous side was clearly on everyone’s mind. With an overwhelmingly female audience, including a number of moms (Coles referenced her own son a couple of times), the biggest concern was how to prevent over-sharing and cyberbullying.

With that, the person who everyone turned to for answers was Randi Zuckerberg, Facebook’s marketing head and Mark’s sister. At one point, she said she wanted to go home to her baby.

Also on the panel was Erin Andrews, the ESPN sportscaster who was the victim of a stalker who posted nude images of Andrews online. Though the incident happened two years ago, Andrews emotionally discussed her continuing struggles to get the video taken offline. Many of her comments are similar to those published in the August issue of Marie Claire, which features a Q&A on this very topic.

With that backdrop, audience members largely directed their questions (sometimes aggressively) at Zuckerberg, wondering what Facebook was doing to beef up security, protect minors, and prevent another incident like Andrews’.

Zuckerberg highlighted the counsel that the company is getting from its own Safety Advisory Council and groups like Common Sense Media, the rules that Facebook has in place to keep minors under the age of 13 off the network, and the positive impact of Facebook’s lack of user anonymity.

“Anonymity on the Internet needs to go away,” she said. “People behave a lot better,” she continued, when their identity is revealed.

“I won’t go so far to say that government should be involved,” Zuckerberg said at one point, a counterpoint to calls from Andrews for greater online policing.

Zuckerberg also wanted to give young people credit for the intelligence that comes with the digital lifestyle that they’ve grown up with. “Teens are much savvier about the Internet and sharing than we think they are,” she said.

But if the audience represents a female-leaning sample of the population at large, then Facebook will have to do more to tackle the privacy issue and reassure users. The Washington Post reported last week that Facebook spent a fortune during Q2 on lobbying efforts, and online security was one of the issues they were lobbying about. Its relationship with Washington might be improving, but to maintain a good relationship with users moving forward, they’re going to have to step up. Particularly with other options in development, like Google+, which has more than 10 million users already.

Barbara Walters was also in the audience, and she jumped in for legislative suggestions from each of the panelists. Amy Guggenheim Shenkan, the president and COO of Common Sense Media had the most direct answer.

“Information should be private by default and public by effort and now it’s the other way around,” Shenkan said. She also said that many privacy policies are “too complex” and there should be an emphasis on “digital literacy.”

Also important when talking to kids about what they shouldn’t put online, said Shenkan, is keeping it relevant for them. For instance, reminding them that something they post today could haunt them later when they’re applying for college.

Finally, Shenkan reminded the audience that all of these issues have come up so quickly that parents, lawmakers, and others haven’t had the chance to catch up with what’s needed to keep people digitally safe.

“It’s challenging to be at the forefront of innovation,” said Zuckerberg. As an example, she used caller ID. “People freaked out when it first came out,” she said, worried that they’re phone numbers would get out. Now, if someone’s number doesn’t pop up when the phone rings “people won’t pick up the phone.”