More social media users make profiles private

June 27, 2012 at 1:27 a.m.
Updated June 28, 2012 at 1:28 a.m.

Beckey Boyd-Gooden updates a blog in a casual environment at Starbucks, a popular hot spot for mobile users.

Beckey Boyd-Gooden updates a blog in a casual environment at Starbucks, a popular hot spot for mobile users.   Frank Tilley for The Victoria Advocate

Carol Baker learned firsthand how reputations can be smeared and relationships can be ruined by social media.

Over the past few years, the 23-year-old mother of two has had to untag herself from pictures, block relatives from her profile and even deactivate her account more than once.

She attributes her social media problems to one thing - family drama.

Baker, who recently moved to San Antonio from Victoria, said her husband's family and his ex-girlfriend, all of whom did not like Baker, began to make untrue remarks about her on the social media outlet, becoming more ruthless with their comments as their statuses and photos received more likes and comments from readers.

"I felt like I was in a high school scenario," said Baker. "At first, I was really angry and upset that they couldn't pick up the phone and talk to me or send an email if they wanted to do it electronically."

"Facebook is for comments and reconnecting with family and friends, not bashing or being ugly to people," she continued.

Hoping to eliminate some of her social media troubles, she changed her profile settings to private, disallowed people to tag her in photos and unfriended several people.

As social media use has evolved into a mainstream activity, users like Baker have sought to better manage their online reputations by controlling the flow of information to different people within their networks, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center's Internet Project & American Life.

Of the 63 percent of adults who said they currently maintain a profile on a social networking site; nearly 58 percent have their profiles set to private so only friends can see it.

Only 20 percent said their main profile is completely public.

The study also found that 63 percent of participants had deleted people from their friends lists, up from 56 percent in 2009; while 44 percent had deleted comments made by others on their profile and 37 percent had removed their names from photos that were tagged to identify them.

More people are realizing the effects of their social media behavior, said Steve Lee, chairman of QuickSilver Interactive Group.

"I don't think as a culture we know how to manage it yet," said Lee, who also works as an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University and University of North Texas. "A lot of people are using tools to find out more about you."

Beckey Boyd-Gooden can certainly attest to that.

After commenting on a Facebook post to show her support for a former co-worker who was wrongfully fired, Boyd-Gooden quickly found out that her Facebook account provided a way for her then bosses to monitor her comings and goings.

"They would say things like, 'Oh, I didn't realize you were sick because you were at the doctor's office' or 'I thought you were doing this, but your status says something else,'" said Boyd-Gooden. "It became very invasive."

Eventually, Boyd-Gooden said, her employers began to show minimal interest in her work projects as well as cut her hours and health benefits.

The grandmother of one found herself purging her friends list again after she got mixed reactions to statuses she posted expressing the whirlwind of emotions she experienced from caring for an ailing loved one.

"Sometimes, I had responses from the most awesome people, but some people who I thought were friends took it as whining," she said. "I got a lot of derogatory comments from people at a tough time."

These days, Boyd-Gooden, of Seadrift, said she primarily uses her closely guarded Facebook profile to help collect things for families in need and to promote Lighthouse 2911, a nonprofit agency she works for that provides programs for bullied children.

Not everyone can solve their problems by merely making a few adjustments to their privacy settings.

According to Pew, 11 percent of social networking site users have posted content they regret, with 15 percent of profile owners ages 18-29 saying they have posted content they later regret, compared with just 5 percent of profile owners ages 50 and older.

Chris Cicero, CEO of the New York-based company Digital Whiteout, has made a living helping people who have posted things online they have later regretted.

"We allow the information found to be what you want to be known about your brand," said Cicero. "With SEO, you are trying to raise your article and weigh the ocean down. Here we're trying to anchor the article down and raise the whole ocean up."

While Cicero and others said anything posted online is impossible to get rid of, things can be done to make the information harder to find, such as moving it from page one of search engines to one of the lower pages.

In some cases, the damage of posting something inappropriate online is so irreparable that people have to just legally change their names, said David Rosenberg, a partner with

Rosenberg said using social media sites to dig up information on people does not always provide an accurate, up-to-date synopsis of someone.

"They have to keep in mind that someone who did something when they were 17 and are now 22, you can't hold them accountable for that and not hire them," said Rosenberg. "The person who is going to be president in about the next 30 years is in college now. What they are doing today, they are not going to want people to know about.

In the future, managing an online reputation is expected to become even harder as social media privacy rights diminish and data harborers become more aggressive in saving everything online that can be saved.

"We've given up much of our privacy. We're not going to get that back. The question now is how much more are we going to have to give up?" said Lee. "Going forward, there has to be a lot more scrutiny on security and privacy because technology is going to quickly strip our ability to manage our own privacy and security. As a society, we have to watch these entities very carefully."

"It's up to us and it's not going to be easy," he said.



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