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My Privacy is Alive and Well This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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Recently I realized why I have so much trouble with small talk. Finding trivial, unimportant things to say to pass the time is even more difficult when you already know hundreds of trivial facts about whoever you’re trying to talk to. Being friends with someone on Facebook means that I often know everything from what he did last summer, to what he had for dinner the night before. When you already know exactly how a person’s weekend was, it becomes harder to have an easy, polite conversation without having to feign interest in a story you’ve already seen tweeted, posted, and tagged ten times over.

The amount of privacy people enjoy has been decreasing rapidly with the increasing popularity of Facebook, twitter, tumblr, and other social media outlets. More and more people are sharing personal, private information on the internet without thinking twice. The websites make it easy, and even fun to share details of your life like your favorite ice cream flavor, relationship status, and location. This lack of privacy among many users has changed social norms as well as the way many people perceive their personal lives. As users of social media outlets multiply each day, it’s important that we evaluate the role these websites have had in such a dramatic decrease in privacy. Peter Cashmore, CEO of Mashable Inc. went so far as to say, “Privacy is dead, and social media holds the smoking gun.” I disagree. While it’s clear that social media has assisted millions in expanding their bubble and making their private information public, we need to remember that we choose what we make public about our lives, and the choice is still ours. Privacy is not dead; it lives on despite being made unpopular by the rising influence of social media.

People who have resisted the pull of peer pressure and decided not to participate in social media show us that we have a choice: we can choose whether or not we make our private information public on the internet. One of my good friends decided after a moth of using Facebook that it wasn’t for her, and deleted her account. She survives without any kind of social media outlet, and has all of the privacy she wants. When she went to her new classes in the beginning of the year, the kids sitting next to her who she hadn’t met didn’t know how she spent her summer and wouldn’t have guessed that she spent time on a Native American reservation. Her classmates knew all about each other’s summers, even if they didn’t know each other. She chose to keep her life very private by not having any social media accounts that display information about her to other users. The fact that people like my friend exist shows that privacy is not dead; social media doesn’t control us. We can decide to keep our lives private by avoiding social media altogether.

Others like me have chosen to have social media accounts but use them carefully, so as to have privacy. Although I have a Facebook account, I don’t post information about myself. Where users are supposed to enter basic information like education, hometown, and relationship status, I’ve left a big blank. I never post statuses about what’s on my mind, and I don’t post pictures showing what I’ve been up to. I’ve also turned my chat settings to “offline” so that when I log on to message a friend or wish someone a happy birthday, no one knows that I’m logged on. This way information I want to keep private like what I did on Sunday, and the book I’m reading, stays private. Using Facebook in such a way shows that I can have privacy and keep certain information to myself while still using social media. These options on sites like Facebook exist so that we can make choices about what we make private in our lives. If people have lost their privacy on social media websites, it’s because they willingly gave up that information; social media certainly didn’t force them to give it up.

Even those who use social media actively and post personal information about themselves haven’t completely given up their privacy. They choose what to post, and no one can fit their entire life onto a blog or into a tweet. There is some information that even the most avid blogger or up-to-date tweeter wouldn’t share, and it’s up to each person individually to decide what is too much. We are all capable of turning off our phones, and logging out of Facebook, twitter, and tumblr, even if doing so is harder for some than for others. In the TV show, Parks and Recreations, the character Tom has an addiction to social media and at one point is even sentenced to spend a week without any such outlets by a judge as a punishment. Even though Tom tweets and updates Facebook constantly, he still has a private life, and doesn’t reveal things like his insecurities and money problems on such sites. Social media may have made it easier for him to share more of his personal life and have less privacy, but it wasn’t against his will and he kept a certain level of privacy as well. He still had privacy, and as long as he chooses what he makes public, his privacy will still exist.

We can’t deny that social media has led to people sharing more and more, and made our private lives shrink, while making our public lives expand. Facebook makes it easy to share, and seeing an abundance of personal posts on a popular tumblr makes others want to join in the sharing. The fact that friends can tag us in posts whether we like it or not makes it hard to say that we control what is shared about us. On some level, social media has made our lives less private, largely by providing an outlet to share what we otherwise might not. Despite all of this we do have a choice, and our privacy is not dead. We control what we post, and thanks to changes in the policies of sites like Facebook, we can make sure that we are aware of what others say about us. Because we control social media, and social media doesn’t control us, our privacy is not dead, and a decrease in how much privacy we have is the result of our choices, not those of an internet site.

Privacy is a personal thing. We all control how much of it we have by choosing what to post and what not to post on the internet. By choosing not to participate in social media, or by choosing to limit posts on social media sites, we show that we still have privacy, and there are some parts of our lives that will always be just for us. Social media may have changed our culture’s norms and made less privacy acceptable, or even made privacy uncool, but it definitely hasn’t killed privacy. We are all in control of how much we share. I have no plans to share what I ate for dinner, and no amount of social media can change that. My privacy is alive and well.

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