WT community speaks out about Facebook privacy concerns

Savannah Wesley, Former Editor-in-Chief

On April 10, Mark Zuckerberg was called for a Senate hearing by the House Energy and Commerce Committee regarding Facebook privacy measures. Students around WT’s campus were asked to give input on the topic, but few students knew about the event or were not surprised.

“I didn’t even know about it,” freshman Robert Roque said.

The mechanical engineering major expressed his confusion to interviewers, explaining that he had not heard about the hearing or the concerns about the privacy of Facebook users. Isabel Peña, a biology pre-vet major, also said that she had not heard about the issue.

With several students stating that they did not know about Zuckerberg’s hearing, it begs the question of whether students did not know or if they were simply not concerned. Dr. Li Chen, assistant professor for the communication department, helped explain the phenomenon.

“Facebook selling user information is not a ‘shocking’ news story to me,” Chen said. “Facebook is not the first [social media outlet] that has done this.”

Chen further explained that within the past few years, scholars have been worried about the potential impact of social media outlets selling personal information, either for commercial or political purposes. However, Chen was surprised that the House Energy and Commerce Committee initiated a hearing, saying that it looked like the House attempted to treat the ‘scandal’ seriously despite most of the conversations being focused on issues already known to the public.

“Many students don’t consider the information they post on Facebook to be private information,” said Chen. “It looks like they have taken for granted Facebook’s using users’ personal information as an exchange for the free service.”

Chen suggested to Facebook users that if there’s something they don’t want any unauthorized person to know, don’t post the information on Facebook. Accordingly, only post the information that users feel is okay for others to know. If users follow this advice, they should not be concerned with the fact that third-party organizations learn about simple matters such as the number of likes clicked last week or how many hours are spent browsing Facebook last month.

“I think it’s kind of unnecessary to use a product and to expect to not compromise your privacy or other privileges,” said Monica Ghosh, biology and environmental sciences major.

However, many people are worried about how their personal information could be used. One of the primary purposes of using media is to be exposed to a wide variety of viewpoints. Chen expressed that the experiences are important because learning about different kinds of viewpoints opens people’s minds and helps them better understand the world.

Third-party organizations, such as advertisers and campaigners, are most likely to use the personal information they collect to estimate people’s taste, media use habits, and political viewpoints so they can better market toward their target audience. They then use this information to tailor messages that are specifically targeting that person, manipulating what they see on social media.

“As time goes on, people are very likely to receive information that only reinforces their pre existing opinions,” said Chen. “Being manipulated is not fun.”