Whether you use Facebook or not, I’m sure you haven’t missed any of the concerns about privacy on social networks. Will Facebook’s introduction of hashtags make people more aware of what they’re making public?
My Mum used to tell me ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all’. I suspect that in years to come my generation will be telling our children ‘if you want to keep it private, don’t put it on the internet’.
Social networks are now so ubiquitous that if you don’t have a Facebook account, you’re in the minority. According to eMarketer, 62% of us are on Facebook, and that figure rises to 88% for 18-24 year olds.
I think social media can be a fantastic thing – it’s a great communication tool, a fantastic way to learn and discover new information, and sometimes just a fun way to pass the time when you’re waiting for a train. However, given how many of us use it, I think all users could benefit from clear education about how it works, and exactly what information we’re giving away when we click that ever-present ‘like’ button.
Hashtags on Facebook
And that’s why I welcome Facebook’s introduction of hashtags. While they’ll be a great tool for communications professionals, and people who want more ‘page likes’, they’ll also be an interesting education for users.
A hashtag, in case you’re not familiar, is a word or phrase marked with the ‘#’ symbol. When you add a tag, it turns into a link, which then takes you to all content that contains that symbol. It’s a quick and simple way to put updates into a category, so I could see all tweets about #sustainability, for instance, or all instagram pictures of #cupcakes (I look at the latter more than the former, I’m ashamed to say).
So why is this good for consumers? Well, what it means is that if they begin to use hashtags on Facebook, your status updates, comments and posts will be pulled into a feed for that tag. So if I use #cupcakes on Facebook, other Facebook-based cupcake enthusiasts will be able to see my fabulous sugary creations.
And I like that – it opens up the social network and makes it more of a place to discover things, rather than just have conversations with my existing friends. I’ve always liked Twitter more than Facebook, simply because it throws a lot of information at me that I’d never have discovered if I only relied on the recommendations from friends or the papers I read.
But, more importantly, I think it will be a useful education in Facebook privacy. Facebook says that: ‘When you click on a hashtag in Facebook, you’ll see a feed of what other people and pages are saying about that event or topic.’ This is significant because although your status updates may not have been easily searchable in the past, they may well have been public. There are excellent examples of this on websites like Weknowwhatyouredoing.com, which pulls in some quite shocking public Facebook status updates (think boss-hating messages or illegal drug-taking pictures).
When hashtags are implemented on Facebook, and strangers begin ‘liking’ my sticky-toffee cupcakes, it’ll be plain to me that I haven’t calibrated my privacy settings so that only my friends know my baking secrets. Facebook says that ‘As always, you control the audience for your posts, including those with hashtags’, which is definitely useful.
However, I suspect that many people don’t realise they can do this. When strangers suddenly start commenting on their updates, it’ll make it even more clear that Facebook isn’t quite the private chat with friends you thought it was.