There’s A Difference Between Private And Personal

While most of us were enjoying the holidays with our families all over the world, someone who is related to the CEO of Facebook posted a photo of her family to friends, and then some journalist person downloaded it and tweeted it.

There’s a real difference between something being private and something being personal. And that, as the aforementioned incident highlights, is a notion that a lot of people — including Randi Zuckerberg — have forgotten, online and off. What I mean by this is that just because you post something online, doesn’t mean it’s meant for public consumption. Yes, this all sounds very conflated, and yes, Facebook privacy controls are about as easy to understand as left-handed scissors for a right-handed person.

However, somewhere in this slow news big news cycle, publications started to tell the story that said Facebook CEO’s sister clearly didn’t understand Facebook’s privacy controls. This is simply not true, because the photo wasn’t private, it was personal. Allow me to explain the difference.

Private As A Peacock

Private: confined to or intended only for the persons immediately concerned; confidential: a private meeting

If something is “private” in your mind, it’s probably not a good idea to share it on the Internet…anywhere. I don’t care what types of controls a social network gives you. There’s no such thing as full-on “privacy” on the Internet. Do you know what is private? A good-old-fashioned photo in a scrapbook, passed around one by one at the dinner table during the holidays.

If you see someone try to pull out their phone to snap a photo for Instagram purposes, you can say “HEY! That’s private.” This can’t be done on the Internet. Once something is out there, it can be screen-shotted, captured and re-shared just as easily as it was uploaded in the first place. As we learned with Snapchat and Poke, those sexy private photos and videos aren’t really “private” either. I’m not even going to get into the difference between public and private, because I feel like that’s fairly obvious.

Privacy is a lost art in humanity these days. We’re so used to sharing every darn thing that happens to us, myself included, that we have lost a sense of self, therefore leaving ourselves open to the shit show that ensued during the boringest news week of the century.

No matter what Randi Zuckerberg said after the fact, people were going to jump on it and make the situation a poster child for how confusing Facebook privacy controls are. But like I said, nothing is ever private on the Internet.

Personal As Punch

Personal: relating to, directed to, or intended for a particular person: a personal favor; one’s personal life; a letter marked “Personal.”

When something is personal in your mind, you may share it on a channel that you feel safe on, such as Facebook. The site does give you some controls on who can see what. All parties involved in this fiasco were very aware that friends of those who were tagged in the photo-seen-round-the-world would see it, but nobody thought that someone would use this access for “evil.”

The photo that Randi Zuckerberg shared was personal. It was of her family, and she knowingly shared it with friends and friends of those friends. She had every right to do so, as all of us do. Downloading the photo and tweeting it to 40,000 followers was a stupid move. Just because you see something on the Internet doesn’t make it “public.” When something is shared personally, that doesn’t mean that you have to run to thousands of people to show them, too.

If I were to grab a photo of someone’s naked baby butt out of that family scrapbook and run around the block showing everyone, that’s a jerk move. That’s what this “reporter” did. The photo wasn’t private. It was personal.

The Generational Shift

Now that a lot of Internet-native folks are growing up and having families of their own, they are now understanding the value of having a personal life and being able to share it with their friends via the Internet. Being completely public isn’t good, and being completely private isn’t good either. You have to have a balance, and sharing personal photos or videos is a part of that balance. It’s a good thing and it should be cherished and treated with respect.

Remember David After Dentist? That was a personal video that wasn’t meant to go public, but it did. And it blew up. It wasn’t private though, or David’s dad wouldn’t have uploaded it to the Internet.

See the difference? Generation Y thinks that if they see something, then it’s meant to be public. And if something is meant to be public, then everyone and their sister should see it, too. That’s wrong, and it’s disrespectful. It’s taking things to the extreme and taking advantage of the technology we have at our fingertips. If you think that everything should be freely viewable on the Internet, or anywhere else, you should think about that for a while. It’s not healthy. Also, the fact that their parents don’t really understand the Internet doesn’t help the matter. There’s a disconnect for some parents when it comes to the Internet, as in the people we interact with online are somehow not “real.” That “ignorance” can hurt the development of our senses on how to treat others in general.

The Overlap

Sure, there are grey areas, as with anything. Some people feel like they need to, or should, share very private moments, like an engagement, or the birth of a child. That’s a personal choice, of course. Once you share, you lose control of where it goes and what gets said about it, though. When Marissa Mayer announced her pregnancy right after becoming the latest CEO of Yahoo!, there were all types of stories written about it.

The key with Mayer sharing that news, was that Yahoo! is a public company, and sometimes, private information needs to be shared so that those who are invested in the company can know all of the details. Clearly, Mayer has handled becoming both a new mother and a CEO extremely well thus far. At the end of the day, normal folks do have a choice. Steve Jobs’ health was another example of something very private and personal that became public, for important reasons.

So where do we go from here? Nowhere, really. All of these things are judgment calls that require your brain, heart and conscience. The photo that made its way to every TV set in America wasn’t private, it was just personal. The Zuckerbergs are fine. They’re over it. They’re just bummed that a personal moment found its way to the public airwaves.

The moral of the story is if something is truly private, sharing it anywhere outside of that dinner table in your home isn’t a good idea. And even then, be vigilant.

[Photo credit: Flickr]