Another Wednesday, Another Story

I thought I’d do a little experiment this week, and not jog people’s memories with the usual tweet or FB post that TLC would be open for business. To what degree does onine social media have a role in this attempt to create realtime social space in a real physical space?

As if it was meant to be, we welcomed today a group of young people in the area who were on their last day of a project, and the course leader, who had heard about our venture (through Facebook) decided to host the final session with us. What was the course? It was a research project into how much this particular interest group used social media, and whether they used it purely for social reasons or to promote action and change in the world…

So there I was, sharing a knickerbocker glory (don’t ask!!!), and my passion for this project and how it all came about through a real time encounter with a now very good friend, but how Facebook, WordPress and Twitter have all helped us along the way.

And then I checked in with our regulars. One presented me with a handmade birthday card (it was my birthday yesterday), complete with my date of birth, and two photos of me. These photos were familiar to me, but it was a little unnerving that he had saved them on his PC, blown them up big and created a montage out of them. These photos were taken by my family, and uploaded onto my personal Facebook profile page. And then he said to me; ‘I know where you live you know’. Wait a minute…. what?! ‘Yes it was on Facebook’ ….. what?!?!? I’m not Facebook friends with this person, and even if I were, I thought I was very very careful about that kind of thing (personal information). He explained that on my profile page, there is a ‘places’ tag and there it lists all the places I’ve ‘checked in’ to, since I first registered with Facebook almost ten years ago. And the scary thing is that this was public, not, as I had thought, just for my ‘friends’ to see. He showed me on his smartphone where he had found the information: I had tagged ‘my house’ on a picture, and within a few clicks he was on googlemaps with almost pinpoint precision as to where exactly ‘My House’ was. I have in fact moved house since then anyway, but the scary thing is that I can’t even see this ‘places’ tag on my Facebook app on my smartphone so I would have been completely ignorant if he hadn’t told me. And I thought my security settings were high and I wouldn’t be caught out with anything like that…

So I did a little experiment tonight on my PC. And I seriously encourage you to do the same: on the Facebook homepage you can click somewhere to see what the public can see of your profile page. I was shocked at the kind of real profile someone can build of me just by my ‘public’ posts; in my opinion, it is obvious what my interests are, what and who is important to me, where I like to go.. basically, if someone did want to cause my harm, then Facebook has made it a lot easier to plan something… For the record, I am not fearing for my safety right now; I am sure it was a purely innocent activity and for the purpose of surprising me with a gift, and he was in fact telling me this for the very purpose of warning me about how there is a lot of information about me in a public space, and it served the purpose; I was spooked.

But, almost within the same breath, I was chatting with this group of young people, extolling the virtues of Facebook and how it enabled me to build the concept of the cafe (have I mentioned that it was through FB that I first found out about The Real Junk Food Project – at that time with a mere 31 ‘likes’), reach out to people to tell them about it, and of course gather 500 signatures to stop the deportation of our central volunteer…

So, another Wednesday, another story, and this time, the message is clear and personal to everyone reading this: Online social media is amazing, we really can change the world, build networks and projects, but, please, go and check your privacy levels because you may be sharing a lot more than you intended to since you’ve been online.

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