Posted: Mar 06, 2014 9:30 AM
Facebook updates inspire, annoy and reveal how many people are obsessed with Buzzfeed quizzes, but most of them don't cost any money. One family stands to lose an $80,000 lawsuit settlement after a single update brags about the verdict. Even with a private page, Facebook is a public forum. Social media, even places that seem private, blur the lines between private and public selves, and our manners and actions haven't yet caught up with the possible consequences.

Social media and illusion of privacy

I hesitated before setting up a Facebook account. I was a teacher, and I wanted to draw the line between my work and personal lives in thick, wide, permanent marker. Before going forward with the account, I checked privacy settings a million times, contemplated the email address I'd use for the account and basically tried to keep my friend list more closely monitored than my kids' internet usage.

I felt fairly secure for a while, until I changed careers and embraced social media on a more encompassing level. Now, with every Facebook update, it takes me longer and longer to remember to check to see if my status updates are set to Public or Friends Only.

Why Facebook isn't the place for secrets

A generation ago, families chatted around the dinner table and dropped their voices to a whisper to recount something gossipy or scandalous. Parents raised eyebrows, warned of spreading the news and hoped their teenagers didn't pick up the phone and tell their best friends.

There are no whispers on Facebook.

Today's parents need to worry about nimble fingers tripping across smartphones and keyboards. Depending on the privacy settings for a Facebook account, status updates — even for a so-called "Private" page where the user requires Friend Requests — can be seen by the general public, friends of friends or friends only. Of course, for certain Facebook users, friend lists climb into the thousands. There are no whispers on Facebook.

An expensive status update

Patrick Snay filed suit against Gulliver Preparatory Academy for age discrimination and retaliation when they failed to renew his contract as headmaster in 2010. After mediation, Snay was awarded an $80,000 settlement. The settlement included a confidentiality agreement for Snay and his wife. Soon after, their young adult daughter, who went to Gulliver and retained Facebook Friend connections with many former Gulliver acquaintances and friends, posted a bit of a brag on Facebook. She wrote, "Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT."

Without access to the confidentiality agreement — and a law degree — it's difficult to know for sure what exactly Snay signed or what level of confidentiality was expected. However, Gulliver's attorneys decided the Facebook status broke the agreement — and an appeals court agreed. (Snay "can file a motion for rehearing and also appeal to the Florida Supreme Court" (Miami Herald).

Finger pointing and what we can learn

Opinions are flying around about the level of secrecy Snay should have been expected to maintain with his family. There's a definite agreement that the Facebook update was a terrible lapse in judgment, but Dana Snay isn't the first person to face consequences from something typed and posted in haste.

isolated megaphone

Social media is a giant megaphone, and we're all stumbling around a little trying to figure out how to regulate what we shout through it. Content creators salivate over the idea of viral content, but that same rapid spread of information can be used for misinformation, gossip or ill-chosen words. No matter how the Snay family proceeds, legally or otherwise, it will likely be documented.

Regardless of the final outcome, the Snay case opens a dialogue about the implications of sharing too much information. Teenagers have been warned again and again about the personal implications for their internet indiscretions, like revealing photos or updates about underage drinking, but this case introduces the ways in which social media mistakes can affect an entire family. All of us may need the refresher about the level of privacy one can actually expect with a medium designed to spread and curate information as quickly as possible.

More about technology use

Apps to limit teen phone use
The dangers of being too plugged in
Parenting style and internet addiction

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