Looking back at my childhood, the world seemed fairly simple. We had rules, and for the most part, they made sense. If your ball went into the neighbour’s yard, you couldn’t (or at least knew you shouldn’t) jump the fence without their permission to retrieve it. You were expected to go to their door and ask to enter their yard because their yard was their private property. However, there are few clearly defined private spaces online and on social media.
It is no longer as cut and dry as it was with the neighbour’s yard. We rarely require consent to be granted before entering someone’s online space. However, some people believe that as long as an account is set to private, they can maintain control of who can gain access. On social media, that isn’t completely accurate.
While marking your posts private can help you argue the point of privacy later, please keep in mind that you are communicating over the internet, and privacy is never to be assumed here.
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The internet was developed as a mass information resource. Information is shared throughout the world in record time, and across countless computers, servers and mainframes in multiple jurisdictions. On top of that, software is developed and upgraded daily to feed and compete with search engines like Google. As a result, millions of web pages, social media posts, pictures, and data files are backed up remotely and archived for a variety of reasons by a variety of people. While things can be done to limit the exposure of something that has been introduced to the internet, nobody can flat out guarantee that it is ever dead or gone for good.
Even if all of your accounts are set to private, you are not awarded an intrinsic right to privacy. In Canada, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not specifically mention privacy or the protection of personal information. However, it does afford protection under Section 7 (the right to life, liberty and the security of the person), and Section 8 (the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure). Laws focusing specifically on digital privacy do exist, however they are geared to protect individuals against corporations, not against other individuals. For example, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) governs how private sector organizations collect, use and disclose personal information in the course of commercial business. Laws that are used to protect one person’s privacy from another tend to have different applications and consequences depending on the circumstances of the case and in some cases, the type of crime alleged.
The reason I tell you this is so that you understand that regardless of what rules you try to create for yourself regarding social media or the internet in general, there are always possibilities that the information you share will be found by someone other than your friends or family. You may say that you only intended for three people to see the item you’ve shared, but depending on your settings, and theirs, your item could be viewed by many more people. Would you consider that to be truly private?
Consider this real-life example: A man and woman who were once married each have their own Facebook account. They have changed their settings so that they do not see anything the other person posts. However, they are both on their daughter’s friends list. As such, there are often times that through a post or comment made by the daughter, the husband will see pictures and video of his former partner on his feed. Likewise, the wife may see references to his business posts or activity with mutual friends. Neither of them intentionally try to see the other’s feed, and have blocked each other, however, they cannot impose restrictions on the accounts of those that they are friends with, so they have to be mindful that some information will still be visible to the other party.
Let’s not just limit this to social media though, before you send a text, think about who you are sending it to, and how they treat or value privacy. When you send your mom a text message to say you’re going to buy groceries, it is reasonable to expect that nobody will see that text but her. However, if she doesn’t have a screen lock or password, or has notifications set to allow message content to display on the lock screen, or allows other people to access her phone, then it’s not entirely impossible to imagine that someone else might see your message before she does.
A long time ago, a professor of mine gave me great advice. He said, “the internet is a life-changing and life-altering invention that existed long before it was public to use. It will continue to evolve at a rate that none of us can truly fathom. As such, there will always be people that are working to secure it, and others that are working to manipulate it. The greatest benefit of it is also the greatest tragedy, and that is that the internet doesn’t forget.” This was a great piece of knowledge and I share it with my readers to keep them mindful about how public social media can truly be.