Can we protect our privacy on social media?

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Social networks have become a part of our everyday life. More than 90% of teenagers use them and 71% use more than one. We now live in a digital era where everything is shared online. How is it possible to maintain privacy in such an environment?

I Social media and personal information

When we are on social networks, we constantly disseminate our personal information. But we aren’t always aware of it and we usually overlook the threat of privacy disclosure.

1 How we give up personal information

Our profile pages are full of personal data that most of us, and especially young people, fill in without even thinking about it. For instance, 93% of the 14-17 year-old users post their real name, 85% their interests, 76% the name of their school and 23% their mobile phone number.

What’s more, when we comment on something, say what we like or don’t like, we give some more information. When we share our contact list on a social network, it can be used to infer information about our “friends”, even if they aren’t on social media. More and more private data are thus delivered.

2 How social media use our personal data

Websites track and record everything we do online. Everything we or our “friends” post publicly, and sometimes even privately, is stored and analysed. A journalist for The Guardian, became aware of it in 2017 when she asked Tinder for her data and was sent 800 pages of her “deepest, darkest secrets”.


to overlook: négliger

CEO (chief executive officer): PDG

Some data are sold to companies so that they can adapt their strategies. A recent example is the Cambridge Analytica Data scandal, for which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had to testify before US Congress. In 2014, 270,000 people participated in a quiz on an app without being warned that they were releasing personal information as well as access to the data of their “friends”. Cambridge Analytica thus accessed the data of 87 million people.

II How private contents elude us


to elude sb, to slip from sb’s grasp: échapper à qqn

breasts: les seins

1 Private matters that go public

Another problem is that whatever we send or post is shared so many times that it slips from our grasp. Even when it is deleted from our account, what we posted remains on the web forever.

This can become very problematic when we want to take down a comment or a picture posted by mistake or against our will, for instance a sexually explicit image.

A National Campaign survey conducted in the USA showed that 20% of teens had already posted nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves; what’s more, 15% of them had sent them to someone they only knew online, thus exposing themselves to immediate or future problems.

2 Consequences

Since everybody can see what people have posted, there can be various and serious consequences: break up of relationships, job loss, humiliation at school or at work, bullying or/and cyberbullying, etc.

This happened to a young Canadian girl named Amanda Todd. She was convinced to show her breasts in front of the camera by a male “friend” she had met online. The man then posted the pictures and, for 3 years, he blackmailed and harassed her until she committed suicide in 2012. Cyberbullying has become a common practice: 88% of American teens say they see cyberbullying on social media “once in a while”.

To cope with this problem, the school curriculum in many countries now includes media education in order to raise awareness about how to use social media safely.