Facebook Privacy Settings Lead To The Outing Of Sensitive Secrets

By Justin Lafferty 

Facebook is continually changing its privacy settings, trying to give users more control over what they want to share and with whom. But still, even with the most stringent settings in place, personal information can find a way out. The Wall Street Journal examined how Facebook changed the lives of two gay college students, when a classmate added them to a public group for other gay choir singers at the school — an action that was shared on the students’ news feeds.

University of Texas students Taylor McCormick and Bobbi Duncan came out to the world via Facebook, but not in ways they ever intended. The two students were added to a public Facebook group by a cohort, automatically posting to their news feeds that they had joined Queer Chorus, a collaboration of gay and lesbian choir singers at the university.

The students told the Journal that when their relatives saw the post, they became disgusted, creating rifts in their families. Facebook claims that the privacy settings are geared more toward users’ individual tastes, as some people want to share everything, whereas some want all posts, photos, and videos to be private. The story notes that there’s still a chasm of knowledge between users and Facebook regarding privacy settings — a gap that the site tried to address with a redesigned help center.

Facebook Public Policy and Communications Manager Andrew Noyes talked with the Journal about this issue:

Our hearts go out to these young people. Their unfortunate experience reminds us that we must continue our work to empower and educate users about our robust privacy controls.

The classmate who added McCormick and Duncan noted that, mainly because his family has accepted his sexual orientation, he didn’t give a second thought that other students might not be so fortunate. He wanted the group to be a source of pride for gay and lesbian students at the university.

While the expansive privacy settings allow users to be in control of what messages come directly from them, there’s always the ever-present danger that comes with having friends and applications sharing personal data, said C.J. Pascoe, a Colorado College sociology professor who studies the role of new media in teen sexuality. Pascoe added:

In a physical space, you can be in charge of the audiences around you. But in an online space, you have to be prepared for the reality that, at any given moment, they could converge without your control.

Readers: Do you have your privacy settings in line with your sharing preferences?

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.