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Social Media: No “Friend” of Personal Privacy by Christopher Spinelli — 59

Social Media: No ‘Friend’ of Personal Privacy

Christopher F. Spinelli

Corporate Communications Elon University


This comment examines the lack of regulation of social media websites, such as Facebook and MySpace, and the effects this lack of regulations has had on the liberties guaranteed by the Fourth Amend- ment to the United States Constitution. This comment argues that by establishing privacy settings on social networking websites, users construct a reasonable expectation of privacy. Examples are provided to illustrate the detrimental nature and ineffectiveness of industry self-regulation. A relevant case study is explored to highlight the societal concerns that are being brought forth within the legal system at an ever-increasing rate. Scholarly opinion is then analyzed in order to reinterpret privacy law so that it properly adapts to rapidly evolv- ing social media networks within cyberspace.

I. Introduction

Industry leaders Facebook and MySpace have largely defined the advent of popular social network- ing websites. According to Hitwise, a distinguished tracking service, Facebook alone comprises approximately 7.07 percent of all Internet visits.1 Furthermore, Facebook and MySpace account for an estimated 249 million unique visitors monthly and, on average, Facebook users spend about 6 hours and 30 minutes on the site ev- ery month.2 These statistics are nothing short of remarkable considering that, to a large extent, these websites did not exist prior to 2006.

Social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace often divulge personal information through the inclusion of personal profiles, pictures, video, and the ability to send messages to friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances. These key features have raised significant privacy concerns for individual users of these websites. Current policy dictates that the social networking industry should practice self-regu- lation. However, there has been frequent public objection to self-regulation. Social networking websites have based their arguments on the fact that higher rates of disclosure produce increased revenues. Therefore, social networking sites are less likely to have their users best interests in mind when the disclosure of per- sonal information is at stake. As Brooklyn Law School professor Paul M. Schwartz argues, “Legal protection

*Keywords: Facebook, MySpace, Fourth Amendment, Social Media Regulation, Privacy Law, Expectations of Privacy in Cyberspace

Email: cspinelli33@gmail.com

1 Reinan, John. “Facebook Overtakes Google -- and the Marketing World Salivates.” MinnPost.com (blog). 12 Apr. 2010. Web.

2 ComScore. Marketing Communications. Social Networking Explodes Worldwide as Sites Increase Their Focus on Cultural Relevance. ComScore, 12 Aug. 2008. Web.

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