Social media seems to be all about spreading the love. If you like something, you show it by clicking the 'like' button, no questions asked. For most people, it stops there – but not for Facebook.
Everything you do online gets noticed by someone, and even the most minor of digital movements can have repercussions you aren't aware of. A perfect example of this is the "like" feature of Facebook. It seems harmless enough, but a recent study demonstrated that there are unseen depths to it that you might not know about. Every "like" is a new piece of data that can be strung together with the rest of your online information, creating a picture of you that is scarily accurate.
A USA Today story recently examined a study done by researchers from the University of Cambridge that tallied up the "likes" and used algorithms to predict user behavior. The results were chilling for anyone concerned about social media privacy: by connecting the dots on Facebook, the study was able to correctly guess the race, gender, religion and even the sexual orientation of users in an overwhelming majority of cases. This should serve as a reminder for those who think they have no risk of social media exposure.
Of course, there are those who deliberately use Facebook as a marketing tool to get noticed, promote products, and raise awareness about their profile or brand. But whether you like it or not, every time you browse, you're leaving fingerprints that can be detected and used to make judgments about you that are getting increasingly precise. And depending on who's doing the judging, you could get targeted with unwanted ads – or worse.
It's unrealistic (and perhaps impossible) to close the Pandora's Box that is Facebook completely, now that it has become a part of so many of our lives. It's more practical to figure out ways to work with the monster than against it, and online reputation management can help you figure out the best methods of limiting your individual vulnerability before someone unsavory figures you out.
John Sileo is a social media expert and keynote speaker on privacy, identity and digital reputation protection. His clients included the Department of Defense, Pfizer, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.