Office DeskOne of the questions I get asked a lot is “how can I keep things private online?” Indeed, only the other day I was involved in a lengthy Facebook discussion where people had suddenly discovered that what they say in Facebook groups can be seen by their friends and family outside that group. On Facebook the whole notion of “what goes on tour, stays on tour” is an alien one.

Social networks are public forums. True, it is possible on Facebook or LinkedIn to set up exclusive, private groups. But they “leak” information because people within the group can copy and paste material so it is seen outside the group. The problems that we have seen in recent months with people attacking women on Twitter is partly down to the fact that the perpetrator’s perception is that they are talking to their friends and that they forget they are broadcasting to the world.

Limiting what you say on social networks is essential for several reasons – legal action for defamation not being one of the least…! Many people, though, like to keep their work and home persona separate. What they say at work they might not say at home and what they do at home they might not reveal at work. If there is too much openness on social networks these boundaries become blurred.

Interestingly, new research into how much we reveal about ourselves shows that the environment in which we are placed can have a significant impact. Researchers at the University of Twente in The Netherlands found that people were much more revealing in large offices with large desks. It transpires that this sense of space and being open turns into a greater feeling of freedom and we just start chatting happily about our personal thoughts.

So, if you want to prevent yourself from revealing too much on social networks make sure you have a small desk in a small office….!

It also suggests why we may well be finding so many people being so open on social networks because vast amounts of that activity is done on mobile devices in wide open spaces. People are getting a greater sense of openness simply because of the place where most online social activity takes place.

That means if you really want to prevent yourself from revealing too much on social networks you should NEVER do it using your smartphone. Indeed, it may well be that the “smartphone-ification” of our online social activity could well lay behind many of the issues and problems we see with it.

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