Facebook is losing its status as a safe social network

Recent changes to Facebook’s privacy policies and new tools connecting users’ information to thousands of websites led four U.S. senators to write a letter of concern.

Harmony Wheeler, Writer

Facebook is losing its reputation as a safe place for social networking. Recent changes to Facebook’s privacy policies and new tools connecting users’ information to thousands of websites led four U.S. senators to write a letter of concern, a concern echoing the growing feelings of several Biola students and faculty.

“Facebook is an interesting case in that it originally attracted such a large following because it seemed to be a safer place to be social online,” said David Bourgeois, who will teach a class on social networking and ministry this summer. “Facebook allowed you to feel safe about being in a social network. I would not say that is true anymore.”

Since Facebook’s 2005 launch, its privacy statement has lengthened from 1,004 words to over 5,000 words, and Facebook now automatically makes users’ information public, requiring users to opt out of the automatic settings by going through each setting and changing it themselves.

Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the most recent privacy changes at last month’s F8 developer conference. According to the network’s Developer Blog, Facebook’s “social plug-ins” integrate user information with over 100,000 websites, an effort that has grown since developers launched “Facebook Connect” in 2008.

Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mark Begich of Alaska and Al Franken of Minnesota wrote a letter to Facebook in April, urging it to reconsider the new policies and their effects on user safety.

As concerns over privacy have increased, the top Google search suggestion when a person types “how do I” in the search box has become “How do I delete my Facebook account.” According to the New York Times, Facebook has 50 settings with over 170 options through which a user must navigate to delete an account. A Facebook group titled “How to permanently delete your Facebook account” provides a faster way to delete an account, providing a direct link to a page that allows users to delete their accounts forever.

Users may also choose to deactivate their accounts, allowing Facebook to save their information for those who decide to return.

Nicole Giese deactivated her Facebook account a year ago after her account contracted a virus that sent out pornographic videos and wall posts. Giese said she has reactivated her account since then with a more careful mind for what she writes and does on the network.

Junior Kelly Roberts deactivated her Facebook account for a month earlier this year.

“I was often finding myself thinking about my life in terms Facebook statuses, and I began to be frustrated with myself for caring so much about my internet appearance,” Roberts said. “I also realized how easy it was for me to allow myself to become unintentional in my relationships because of Facebook. It’s disturbing how much information I can know about others without having to sit down and talk with them.”

Other Biola students have avoided Facebook altogether.

Junior Brian Hong, who has never had a Facebook account, said that while he recognizes the benefits of Facebook, he believes the network is often superficial.

“It’s easy to gain access or befriend someone,” Hong said. “It is even easier to disguise yourself and pose to be someone you are not. And letting the whole world know what you are doing in every waking moment in your life is not meeting the increasing demand for privacy.”

Senior Elise Paty has also avoided Facebook.

“I just think there’s a real danger in having that control of our image rather than just being ourselves in real life, especially if relationships are being developed online,” she said.

Ultimately, Bourgeois said the individual must decide how to deal with both the positive and negative sides of social networking.

“Each of us should be responsible to understand the privacy settings of the different sites or tools we use and think through the implications of those settings,” he said.

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