VIDEO: The future of privacy is in our own hands in the social media age

Maintaining our privacy has become more difficult than ever in a social media reliant society. Second year Journalism and New Media student at the University of Limerick, Breda Graham, reveals the findings of a survey on the issue and suggests why we should think before we upload.

A survey of heavy social media users within the University of Limerick has revealed that 95% believe we now live in a society where personal privacy is difficult to maintain.

The survey - conducted among 240 social media users - also shows 55% of respondents have taken a photograph or video of someone without their consent; 36% have uploaded a photograph or video of someone to social media without consent and 76% have had photographs or videos of them uploaded to social media without their consent.

Responding to these and other fndings which show of the 240 people surveyed 44% also believed their privacy has been breached and that 48% would not know who to contact in order to remove content, Dr Elaine Vaughan lecturer and course director of MA TESOL, suggested social media had become the modern day equivalent of "putting someone in the stocks.”

Dr Eoin Devereux, Assistant Dean of Research in Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Limerick, said the findings - and the ever growing list of social media platforms- were proof positive of a continued erosion of the dividing line between public and the private in modern society.

“From common experience - and not just commenting as a media sociologist interested in these things - I think one of the big issues is when something does happen on social media where your privacy has been invaded or if you’ve been offended in some way.

"It’s difficult to contact Twitter or Facebook to actually talk to a human being and say ‘I’ve been defamed, libelled, I have been offended or I’ve been hurt by something or my privacy has been invaded’. These organisations, while they’re all around us in our lives, they’re also very difficult to make direct contact with.”

55% of those surveyed also admitted they did not know what happenned to content or information once it was uploaded to social media.

One respondent commented, “I am very aware that content can never be completely deleted so I’m conscious never to upload anything offensive or revealing of myself or others.”

Dr Eoin Devereux describes this lack of understanding as citizens working for free for corporations such as Facebook and Twitter.

He said large swathes of users were not aware Social media sites are constantly generating information about our interactions to allow targetted advertising in line with the kinds of things we may be emailing or communicating about.

He continbued: “For me the issue is more about what happens to information once networks such as Facebook and Twitter circulate it. How data is harvested, where data is stored and how much information is known about private individuals in terms of their interactions online.”

“I think the big issues are about how big conglomerates access vast swathes of data about all of us as individuals. They’re not necessarily looking over our shoulder in a scary way but what they’re doing is harvesting this material for commercial gain,” he said.

So the message is clear. Before you upload understand what it is you are doing, reflect on the possible repercussions for those who are the subject of your post and, bottom line, think before you upload.

Breda Graham is a Second year Journalism and New Media student at the University of

Limerick. Writer and reporter of numerous different issues and events with a particular interest in the law and a desire to pursue crime writing.


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