Facebook: To post or not to post?
By Craig James Baxter
The global coronavirus pandemic has left millions furloughed, working from home or redundant. With many having more free time on their hands than usual, is there is an opportunity to use Facebook and other social media platforms more than you once did? And with all this newfound ‘free time’ and a distinct lack of face to face contact with your family and friends, have our social media habits changed? Have people relaxed in what they’re willing to post, or is the boundary between one’s private life and social media growing exponentially?
Facebook is not a new concept. Since its inception in 2004, it has redefined and revolutionised how we communicate. You can create an account in minutes and be chatting to whomever you like within moments. You’re given an unlimited opportunity to express your thoughts, feelings and emotions and before you post a status, there’s a ‘what’s on your mind’ prompt within the status area, giving you the invitation to reveal whatever it is on your mind. But just what IS on your mind and are you willing to share it?
I conducted research on this very question. I asked the ‘likers’ of my very own Facebook page (Understanding Body Language Liars, Cheats and Happy Feet) to provide me with an insight as to what they would and wouldn’t post on their Facebook. The results of this research helped shape this article and I sincerely thank those who commented with their opinions.
From the replies received, it’s evident that one of the most contentious aspects is posting images of children. The comments made highlighted the divide between public opinion as to what’s acceptable and what’s not. You may or may not realise that the cover photo and profile pictures you select on Facebook are set to public by default by Facebook, meaning that anyone with a Facebook account (roughly one billion active users a month) are able to view these pictures, even if they’re not on your friends list. Right now, you could type in a name, click a few buttons and extract photographs of their children which they’ve used as their cover or profile pictures (or indeed all their albums if they’ve marked them as public) and have free reign to do whatever you wanted with them.
What’s also important to realise is that you don’t need a Facebook account to extract these public images. You’re able to perform a Google search and find people who use Facebook, click their page and view their content which they’ve set to public. It’s not just public on Facebook, it’s public to anyone with access to the internet. From the comments made, some found these scenarios a daunting prospect, whereas some expressed that they can put their trust in others not to be malicious with pictures of their children. Another aspect commented was in regards to the over jubilant grandparent sharing picture after picture of their grandchildren, giving those who you don’t know (your parent’s Facebook friends) access to images of your children. With perhaps the older generation not being as savvy with their privacy settings, there was a question raised about the increased risk of images being harvested and ending up in the wrong hands. Scenarios like this reveal that it’s not just the parent who needs to be vigilant; it’s family members and friends who perhaps don’t share the same opinion as you as regards to privacy or indeed share the same Facebook settings as you.
How about your political opinion? Again, from the numerous comments made, it would appear that politics is another subject where people would rather not comment and make public via social media. It would appear that airing your political belief is as controversial as uploading children’s pictures. Brexit was a hugely contentious issue here in the UK, with many posting their dismay or jubilation at the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (2016) causing many arguments.
An area commented which seems to have an universal agreement is not sharing the information that you’re away on holiday and that you’re subsequently away from your home. This seems logical as you’re advertising that your house isn’t occupied and gives an opportunity for this information to be shared (especially via the share button) with those who may have bad intentions. Waiting until your home to upload photos seems to be the preferred method.
The freedom of expression has no doubt created a culture of mystery via social media postings. One type of behaviour you might have already noticed is the posting of vague non-descriptive statuses like “omg I can’t believe it”, “Today’s the day!” or “Absolutely fuming” but with no follow up or indications as to what’s happened. Many have coined these types of statuses as ‘Facebook Fishing’ wherein the poster virtually ‘fishes’ for their friends to comment and ask what’s wrong or for more information, with the poster often never revealing their issues often via preferred method of telling people who do ‘bite’ to ‘PM me’ meaning they do wish to discuss the issue, but have now have made the decision to make the issue private. You might recognise this style on your feed, with one participant cleverly coining this type of fishing as a ‘Stat-I’ instead of a ‘Stat-US’.
The other end of the ‘status spectrum’ is the Facebook boasters. You may recognise this behaviour on your timeline as those who bombard their friends with posts that relate to their wealth and their perceived status within society. In my role as a body language educator, I have written extensively on the subject of how and why people display their status with non-verbal adornments (expensive jewellery, designer clothes, flash cars) and a promotion of such lifestyle via social media is a frequently seen occurrence, much to the dismay of many.
A special mention has to be made to older postings. Your posting habits may have changed over the years, and you’re now able to check this (via the ‘memories’ button) and view your statuses on that day since you joined Facebook. I must say, as the author of this article, some of my previous postings have been a great memory jogger, seeing photographs from weddings I attended and the remembering the numerous places I’ve been to with friends and family do make for a happy reminisce. It’s also a gentle reminder to re-connect with those who you have perhaps lost touch with. However the ‘memories’ function also provides an eye-opening insight into your much earlier days of Facebook, the days when freedom of expression was perhaps more carefree and aloof. I myself was shocked at some of the posts I typed 11/12 years ago (such as using offensive language) & I have since deleted these, but these are a stark reminder of what you post on Facebook really does stay there and could be used against you should someone delve enough into your online history.
Many celebrities have been severely reprimanded because of their historic postings on social media. Jack Maynard lost his place on I’m A Celebrity 2017 after it emerged that as well as historic racist and homophobic tweets, Jack had also asked a 14-year-old fan to send him nude pictures on his Facebook account (BBC News 30/5/18) and Josh Rivers who lasted just a few weeks as Gay Times Editor, after it was revealed he sent a series of tweets between 2010 and 2015 making offensive comments about women, Jewish people, Chinese people, lesbians, transgender people and to people he thought were overweight or ugly (BBC News 30/5/18).
I dare say that upon reading this you’ll be investigating as to what you posted in your early days of Facebook (especially if you’re a long time user) and may be amused, shocked or even appalled at some of the statuses you once thought were a good idea at the time. It’s worth remembering that many who have made racist/offensive remarks via their social media platforms have faced legal action from those who received the abuse.
Another aspect of Facebook postings which I incidentally wrote about in my book (human behaviour) was the rise of the virtual superstition. I have seen on many occasions people sharing pictures of ‘lucky coins’ that bring good fortune to all who share, or ‘share this post within 30 seconds or have bad luck and poor health for a year.’ With the global pandemic causing widespread pain and a loss of thousands of irreplaceable lives, the fear of an unknown and un-measurable force is sometimes too much to ignore. As I mentioned in my book, superstitions do play a significant role in today’s modern society, more so than you’d realise and I still firmly believe that their infiltration and popularity within social media is growing.
So after all this, the question does remain, why do we even post at all? We survived for years without social media, why do we need it now? I’ve noticed that people (based on what I see on my own feed) are using their Facebook for other reasons than posting information pertaining to ‘what’s on your mind’. Many are using their Facebook to share light-hearted memes, to buy and sell unwanted items via marketplace, many are using it to join local community pages to engage with local people to share recommendations and many are using the platform to promote and share charity fundraisers. The immediacy of information loaded to Facebook is astounding and with one billion active users, there is a plethora of information for those ready to explore new ideas & hobbies.
There is also a discussion to be had that you indeed do have a choice as to who you have on your Facebook friends list. You have the option to send a friend request and to receive one; it’s your decision and your finger on the button. However what you don’t necessarily have is the luxury of knowing where your content goes once someone clicks ‘share’. The share button enables your information to be viewed by people you don’t know and in some cases, due to their privacy setting, you don’t know who has shared this content, and where to. As you read this, I could click share on any picture which you have allowed to be public (such as your profile/cover photo) and off it goes, if one of my facebook friends (who is not known to you) clicks share, their friends will now see it, & on it goes. If you’re not concerned about your content being viewed by strangers then it’s not an issue, but to those who do consider privacy an important aspect of an online experience then it can be a worry, especially when it comes to who has access to your children’s pictures (or indeed your empty house) and the intentions they could have.
So where does this leave the future of social media? Are we becoming more reserved in what we post regarding our private lives? From the research I have conducted it would appear so. The line of what people will and will not post is clearly interpersonal and what works for some seems strange to others. It’s hard to imagine that we once lived in a world without social media and many will wonder how they did. As we all look to the not-so-distant future and we’re able to freely mix with our friends and families again, will this change our preferences to our online presence? Will people relax from their current boundaries to load pictures of themselves reigniting their relationships with their friends, whom many of which haven’t been seen in a year? Or perhaps your relationship with the virtual world will take a step back once face to face friendships are able to resume safely?
As I draw this article to a close, perhaps you may never have considered what you’re posting (or indeed have posted in the past) so I do hope this has been useful/interesting in giving you an insight into the possible dangers and opportunities that social media provides. You may recognise habitual Facebook behaviour in your friends, but never understood its significance until now. There is often a chasm between how people portray themselves online and how their life really is. One thing is abundantly clear though, however you use your social media, be mindful that you’re always accountable as to what you post.
Facebook; to post or not to post, that really is the question!
All the very best,
Craig is an Amazon #1 bestselling author on body language and human behaviour, with his debut book ‘ Behind The Mask What Michael Jackson’s Body Language Told The World’ hitting the #1 spot in its category on Amazon in 11 countries. His opinions are highly sought after for non-verbal analysis, with Craig’s observations being documented in The Telegraph, The Guardian, More Magazine, Women’s Own, Radio Times and BBC Radio Lancashire. Craig is a master trainer in reading advanced micro expressions with the prestigious Humintell training, making him the first in the UK to achieve this accolade.
To check your privacy settings on facebook visit https://m.facebook.com/help/325807937506242