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Something to Consider While You Return Christmas Gifts

Okay, enough Candy Crush.  Slate had an interesting/scary article that quietly slipped on by in the mad rush of Christmas.  Facebook has been noting all those times when we start writing a status update or comment and then change our mind and delete before posting.  In other words, every single keystroke is being logged by Facebook at all times.  The ones you post.  The ones you erase.  And the ones you delete because you thought better of hitting publish.


The Slate article points out that this is true for lots of sites.  Google, for instance.  It keeps hitting save every few keystrokes so you don’t lose your work.  Except there’s a point to it on Gmail.  There’s a draft folder, and we’re relieved to learn that our words aren’t lost when there’s a computer glitch.  But there doesn’t seem to be a point to saving our keystrokes on Facebook… except to benefit Facebook.  There isn’t a draft folder for half-finished comments or status updates, for instance.

But more, those self-deleted, non-posted musings aren’t totally private.  They write,

It turns out that the things you explicitly choose not to share aren’t entirely private. Facebook calls these unposted thoughts “self-censorship,” and insights into how it collects these nonposts can be found in a recent paper written by two Facebookers … It reveals a lot about how Facebook monitors our unshared thoughts and what it thinks about them.

And the post goes on to point out the true discomfort in all of this:

While it may be uncomfortable that the NSA has access to our private communications, the agency is are monitoring things we have actually put online. Facebook, on the other hand, is analyzing thoughts that we have intentionally chosen not to share … the FBI needs a warrant but Facebook can proceed without permission from anyone.

As someone who preaches circumspection, this news is a little disturbing.  I like that people self-censor.  I like it when people think before they post.  I like it when they change their mind and don’t subject me to something that they have doubts about.  Self-censoring is a wonderful human instinct that goes along with moderation and thoughtfulness.  People should listen more often to that little niggling feeling in their stomach, the one that makes them wonder if posting is a good idea.

In a world that moves quickly, it’s difficult to always process things before speaking/posting, so I admire someone who catches themselves before they spill the contents of their brain on the Internet.  I always ask the kids to pause before posting, asking themselves if the words could bite them in the ass at a later date, do they have the potential to be misunderstood, or are the words productive.

Turns out, if they type them on Facebook, that circumspection doesn’t matter the moment they touch fingertips to keyboard.

What do you think of the fact that Facebook monitors what we don’t post as well as what we post?


1 Katherine A { 12.26.13 at 8:46 am }

Oh. My. Heavens. That actually scares the heck out of me. There’s plenty of stuff I’ve started typing, and then thought better of posting in such a public forum. Perhaps now I’ll start using a Word document to craft my facebook statements before even considering typing there.

But even then, it irritates me that I have to do that to prevent something that I thought better of, that I self-censored, from becoming known to someone else. It’s sort of like someone reading my mind – like pretty much everyone, I have thoughts I wouldn’t tell people about or that I’m not really very proud of thinking. And they aren’t for public consumption – that’s why they stay in my head. I view things I started to type and then thought better of on facebook in the same sort of light.

Also, what about the potential legal ramifications? Could someone subpoena those records in a legal case such as a lawsuit or divorce? What about leaks or hacking, especially for public figures? The potential implications could be quite far reaching.

2 Northern Star { 12.26.13 at 10:20 am }

Wow. Just wow. Thanks for bringing this to attention Mel!

3 Pepper { 12.26.13 at 7:00 pm }

Things like this make me questions why I still have Facebook account. Not that I’m deleting myself any time soon, but it gives me that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. (Also I recognize that it doesn’t matter what I do in the future, even if I delete my account… Facebook always wins.)

4 Justine { 12.26.13 at 9:46 pm }

I wonder … is this in the TOS? Or can they do this just because they’re not technically collecting the content of self-censored posts yet? I don’t know what scares me more … that they’re actively monitoring this, or that they’re trying to decrease self-censorship. Because I agree; learning how to filter information is part of becoming functioning citizens in society. If we all say exactly what we think all of the time, we would have chaos. (On the other hand, this raises interesting questions about the value we place on the little white lie …)

5 St. E { 12.27.13 at 12:16 am }

Oh sheesh. That is scary.

6 Battynurse { 12.27.13 at 1:16 am }

Wow. Another reason FB can be so overwhelming. Still has some good points but it’s racking up the negative.

7 Persnickety { 12.27.13 at 5:21 am }

I saw that before Christmas and it really freaked me out- so I promptly shared it with co-workers.

Where I work we are in the process of prepping for some significant privacy law changes and we have conversations that go- well we don’t need to worry about collecting”sensitive” information, we don’t collect it, oh wait we do, how do we manage it? o_O.

Between that and the vast amount of information that has to be collected for “anti-terrorism and counter money laundering” purposes, I am starting to get paranoid. We put a lot of information on the net, and we really don’t know who has it and how it will be used

8 Lori Lavender Luz { 12.27.13 at 2:30 pm }

I can’t decide whether I’m more freaked out or more incensed.

Like the others say, thanks for this info.

9 Valerie Rind { 12.27.13 at 2:51 pm }

I was going to comment on this, but changed my mind. 🙂

10 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 01.02.14 at 2:30 am }

I have never been a big fan of Facebook, but only because I’m a natural introvert and Facebook encourages extravert-style interactions. To each their own, I thought. But I’ve been hearing more and more off putting things about the site and this is probably the most disturbing of all. Just, why??

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