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Why Facebook’s “private” messages are a joke

2 min read

Marketing Strategy

Have you heard the latest social-media joke?

Mr. T, a ninja and a talking horse walk into a bar. Mr. T orders a Courvoisier and takes a seat. The talking horse starts to order, but the bartender cuts him off.

“No way,” says the bartender. “I saw what you and your ninja friend said about this bar on Facebook chat last night. You’re not welcome here anymore. Just pay your bar tab and get out.” Hearing this, ninja quietly slips away into the shadows, leaving the horse to cover both bills.

“I pity the foal,” says Mr. T.

If you’re not laughing, it’s either because you don’t love awful horse puns as much as I do,  or because the exploitation that allows Facebook users to view friends’ private chats was all too real, as we note in the lead story of today’s SmartBrief on Social Media.

Whenever the topic of social-media privacy comes up in conversation, there’s always one self-satisfied person who announces that they’ve got their privacy settings on lockdown — and anyway, they’d never put embarrassing personal information in their Facebook profile. Fair enough. But what about chats and private messages? Are they sure they’ve never said anything damaging via one of Facebook’s supposedly one-on-one channels?

When we think about social media, we think about the intentionally outward facing parts of it, not the private exceptions. But even if Facebook weren’t looking to push the boundaries of privacy, it’s a software program, and programs have bugs. Users need to realize that anything they say in any part of Facebook could be disclosed without consent or warning.

If you’re using Facebook for business, it might be safer to have all your communications in public — that way you won’t be tempted to say something that could potentially embarrass you if it ever leaked out. I know it’s no fun to go around talking as if Big Brother is watching you all the time, even in one-on-one conversations. But then again, it beats picking up a ninja’s bar tab.

Do you treat Facebook’s chat and private-message features as being private? Have you ever had supposedly private information accidentally disclosed? Do you think it’s a good idea for business users to restrict their social communications to public channels?

Image credit, Miguel Angel Salinas Salinas, via Shutterstock