But I'm not on Facebook...

People who choose not to be on social networking sites should have the right not to be on social networking sites - privacy, reputation and control on Facebook.

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Privacy, reputation and control

A significant number of Britons have not opted-in to social network sites (SNS) such as Facebook, Google+, Twitter and YouTube. A recent Ofcom report shows 41% of UK internet users do not have a profile on a SNS[1]. Non-participation may be due to privacy issues, online safety concerns over cyberbullying and stalking, or perhaps simply a desire to not follow the herd.

Nonetheless the 41% of internet users who have not opted-into an SNS may find they are visible, and therefore have an identity on sites such as Facebook.

This article explores issues of privacy, identity, reputation and control as they relate to non participants of social networks, turning the spotlight on Facebook.  With nearly one billion users, it is the world's most popular SNS. Facebook is also as renowned for its privacy blunders as it is for its phenomenal growth and therefore warrants some scrutiny.

While Facebook users have the ability to carry out vital profile and reputation management techniques such as un-tagging photos or videos, this is not so for non-users.

How many non-users have aspects of their lives unwittingly and perhaps unknowingly exposed on the pages of Facebook? This online identity has been imposed upon them, with aspects of their lives open to scrutiny, exposed by (and to) others. Where is a non-users right to privacy? Non-users have little control over their Facebook visibility.  It is difficult for them to edit, delete or manage their Facebook exposure. Put simply, it is an identity they did not choose, and perhaps even one they have actively tried to avoid!

As James Grimmelmann, Associate Professor of Law at New York Law School, and author of 'Saving Facebook' put it "deliberately staying off of Facebook has an unambiguous social meaning, and Facebook should respect the request"[2]

Reputation rights

According to Warren Buffet, the American investor and philanthropist "it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it".

How we present ourselves online - and crucially how others present us - will provide an impression of us offline, and this may have negative or positive consequences for our personal and professional reputation.

The importance of online reputation is reflected in the growth of digital reputation management companies, a growing industry that sets out to manage our digital footprint in what author Andrew Keen describes in his book, Digital Vertigo, as the 'hypervisibile age of great exhibitionism'.

It is vital therefore, that everyone, perhaps especially those people who choose not to participate in SNS - the non-exhibitionists - has awareness of their online identity and is given the right to monitor, and manage that identity.

So important is the issue of online identity management that EU lawmakers have recently announced a digital 'right to be forgotten' law.[3]

[1] http://www.webcitation.org/68xHXMZ2l

[2] http://www.webcitation.org/68xIUclvD

[3] http://www.webcitation.org/68xJTbTCP

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