If you seriously believe that anything you put on Facebook is private, you’re living on a different planet.  Facebook and any other form of social media communication and even e-mails are not private.  Just ask all those CEOs whose e-mails have been subpoenaed for court cases or the teens who threatened to harm someone at school – their computers were seized.  (Or their cell phones! Watch those text messages.)  You may not be doing anything criminal, but you’re leaving a trail that may affect you for a very long time.

Privacy settings are a joke.  Anything you think is private can be copied, pasted, and shared with the world.  Yeah, I am seriously suggesting that you don’t trust any system on the Internet or the people with whom you are communicating with to keep your words or photos private.  In other words, be careful, very careful.  You post it, it’s public.  Period!

Many thanks to the many teens who shared their Facebook nightmare stories with me.  I invite you to share your stories with me too.


1. post things in anger or frustration.

Don’t ditz people, call them names, or use obscenities toward another person.  Sarah told me that after she broke up with her boyfriend, he posted nasty things about her on Facebook.  He called her a b-tch and some of his friends commented on his remarks, noting that she was a whore, among other things.  Sarah was so upset that she had a full-blown panic attack, including rapid breathing, a racing heart, and she said her hands went numb.  Her girlfriends were seconds away from calling 911, but managed to calm her down.  What ever happened to ‘Do onto others as you would want done to you?’

2. post embarrassing photographs of anyone.

This is a common example that I heard from several young adults – friends were drunk or doing drugs and someone photographed it.  You need to know that if you’re participating in underage drinking or illegal drug use, there is a chance that one of your so-called friends might photograph you with their cell phone camera.  He may not even think that it’s a big deal, that it’s actually funny! A nineteen-year-old girl explained that a friend of hers flashed her chest to some guys after a drinking binge.  One of the guys posted it on Facebook and the girl was deeply embarrassed by her actions.  Since she didn’t post the photo, she couldn’t remove it.  Finally, she convinced the guy to take it down, but not before his friends got a good look at her D cup.  Do you want your potential employers seeing this?  Friends?  Family?  Teachers?  Clergy?  It’s even possible that your photo will get used without your permission on other sites, and you may not even know it!  What started as a so-called joke can be turned into a personal nightmare.  Totally not cool!

3. post information that you don’t want revealed to world.

Tal told me about two – yes – two friends of hers that put on their status that they are gay.  Neither one of these young men had told their parents or their siblings.  Neither guy had friended their family members, so they thought that the information was private.  Hah!  Not at all shocking to find out that through the grapevine the information was leaked and the parents learned this important news by one of the friends.  What hurt the families the most was not that they found out that their sons/brothers were gay, but that everyone else knew about it before them.

4. share your deepest secrets in an IM on Facebook or any other written form of communication.

This type of correspondence can be copied and shared.  You have something you need to confess, then communicate in person or over the telephone.  Beth told her so-called best friend, Lacy, about her first sexual experience.  Lacy thought Beth’s description was humorous and shared it with her friends in her sorority.  Beth found out and needless to say, Beth and Lacy are no longer speaking to each other.  Lacy later told me that she wished that she had thought about it first, but didn’t.  If she had, she never would have showed Beth’s IM to others.

5. announce major life events before sharing them with the most important people in your life.

Danny told me that a friend announced that she accepted a spot at a university without telling her immediate family, including her parents.  Imagine their surprise when people started offering their congratulations via e-mail and IM.  The senior was so excited that she posted it on Facebook, but neglected to share the information with some of the most important people in her life.  Needless to say, they were a little upset that “they were the last to know.”  This rule also can be applied for happy news such as engagements, births etc.  Because social networking is instantaneous information, tell the people who are important to you first and ask others to wait a few hours before announcing the news to the world.  That way you can have the opportunity to share the good news with the people who are most important to you.

6. break up with someone, or quit a job or team via Facebook.

Have the guts to communicate directly with the individual, instead of using Facebook, e-mail, or texting as a means of getting out of a relationship, job, or team.  It’s so totally not okay.  At the very least, pick up the phone and have the guts to be honest with the other person/people involved.

7.  push the publish or send button until you double check who will be receiving the message.

Have you accidently sent a note on Facebook to the wrong person?  It happens every day!  Randi told me that she had this situation happen via text messaging.  A friend sent her a scathing text, which was extremely hurtful.  In the message she was called all sorts of names and said that she couldn’t be trusted.  It turned out that the text was intended for the girl’s boyfriend and not Randi.  In the end the girl was relieved and grateful that Randi saw it, and not her boyfriend because an hour later she felt differently about the situation.  As my other half says, “Let cooler heads prevail!”

Facebook and other social networking systems are fabulous ways to communicate instantaneously.  I love reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in ages and staying in touch with family and friends.  But with it comes tremendous responsibility.  Don’t let it be a substitute for face-to-face communication, especially for the important matters in life.  We need to talk through issues, be honest and direct.  Somehow, we’ve diminished this form of connecting with others.  Don’t let it become a way to embarrass or to hurt others.  Most importantly, never forget that the only way to guarantee that something remains private is not to share it!

Check out this powerful YouTube video that clearly illustrates how posting photographs on Facebook are never private:


About Liza Wiemer:

Liza has a blog for YA/teens at www.whoRuBlog.com.  She is an award-winning educator, parent of two teen boys, and author of several adult non-fiction books.  She is currently working on several YA novels.  You can follow Liza on Twitter http://twitter.com/LizaWiemer or Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/433276.Liza_Wiemer