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Posted at 2:00 PM ET, 04/21/2010

Student: Do, kids, teachers on Facebook really want privacy?

By Valerie Strauss

A few months ago I linked to a story by Brandi Bottalico, 18, a senior at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., who wrote that Facebook had changed its privacy settings. She proceeded to follow the changes and see how young people adapted to them. Here are her conclusions:

By Brandi Bottalico
After first hearing that Facebook had changed its privacy settings, my initial response was to race home and make my page secure again. I thought, "ANYBODY could see my page. Complete strangers could view anything that I had posted!"

But then my thoughts began to zero in on specific people I didn’t want to see my page -- mom’s friends, my boss and coworkers, and my teachers. My heart skipped a beat at the last one and then I realized: It wasn’t the unknown that bothered me, but the semi-known.

I could give a hoo-ha about some man in Texas knowing that I’m a fan of “Glee” or that my interests include "soccer" and "hanging out with friends." What I care about is my mom’s friend snooping about what I did last weekend, or sitting in class knowing that my teacher may or may not have seen my favorite quote or the pictures of me on New Year’s Eve.

I began to spread the word about the new changes to the rest of the student body by writing an article for my school newspaper.

In researching the article, I discovered that of the 24 students from my school I randomly chose to observe, none had noticed the new settings, leaving their pages available for many to see. In an effort to inform everyone, my article was published as the main article on the school newspaper’s website and sent through email to teachers and faculty.

About a month later, I checked the same people’s pages and NO ONE had changed anything! This really surprised me. Do the students really not care?

Really though, why should we care whether these people can see anything on our
profile? If we truly valued our privacy, we wouldn’t post anything sensitive online.

But the honest truth is that today most people want others to be aware of their lives and what kind of people they are. Why else would we post pictures, change our relationship statuses, and let our opinions be known through status updates, favorite quotes and our conversations with one another? Because we want people to know about new relationships, our opinions and what we did this weekend!

At one point, I was going through a current teacher’s wedding album, finally putting faces to the sisters she talks about. Afterwards I easily accessed another teacher’s New Year's album from two years ago. Several other teachers were even tagged, all sporting infamous New Year’s Eve glasses, the kind with the double zeros in the year serving as lenses. I questioned: Was this meant for me to see?

Either our teachers don’t know we can see their pages or just don’t care whether the students can see their bachelor party and New Year’s Eve albums.

If I have sat in class and contemplated whether my teachers have browsed through my New Year’s Eve pictures or favorite quotes, then they surely would feel as self-conscious as I do about this -- especially while standing in front of a class of 20 or so students who could have seen their pages.

I am convinced that the teachers aren’t aware their pages are this public. So my first article didn’t get the job done.

The difference in the privacy of the Facebook page lies in the unwanted audience, the semi-known. We students are in the prime of our social lives and want the world to know about the party last weekend. But students also want to exclude certain people from seeing them holding the sketchy red cups or the embarrassing photos from the night.

A teacher has a larger audience who he doesn't want viewing his page: about 900 students. Teachers do not want the student in the second row, third desk to know that they jokingly wrote "Commie" as their political views or that their cat’s name is Calvin.

So if I have assumed correctly, that this is just a matter of being unaware of the changes in privacy, I hope readers will consider this a warning.

Tighten up your Facebook page’s default privacy settings -- unless you don’t mind these little quirks being public knowledge.

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 21, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Student Life, Technology  | Tags:  Facebook privacy, Facebook privacy changes, bishop mcnamara high school, teachers on facebook  
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