An Interview with Aaron Tooley: How Much Information is TOO MUCH information?

Aug 9, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Aaron, first of all, tell us a bit about your background, education and experience.

Thanks, Michael, for the opportunity to discuss this topic and infographic. I am the director of online media for Online-Education.net. I have been working in the education media for a little over two years building media and quality content. In terms of my background, before deciding to change careers and work in online publishing, I earned my Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of California, San Francisco, where I did research on cells of the immune system. And while I still love doing research, now I just do experiments on the web.

2) Now, let’s talk about the topic in general- “Are People Sharing Too Much Information Online?”… In your view—ARE THEY??

That is a great question and one that is not easy to answer. I think it all depends on how comfortable people are with sharing information about what they do and how they live. I know a lot of people share information about where they are going or where they are. That has never really interested me. I am more on the private side and would prefer if people did not know when I am home or not. I guess for me, it is a security issue. If I want to share photos from a vacation, I will typically do that after I get back. With that said, I do know people who like to share their location in case a friend is in the area so that they can stop by to say hello. So to me, it is all about comfort level and common sense. Do not share information or photos you would not be comfortable getting out across the internet.

As I was thinking about the answers to these questions, I decided to double check my own privacy settings. I thought I had everything blocked to the public, but I had never tried to view my profile as someone else. It turns out I was still sharing some photos and other basic information to everyone. Facebook has added a lot of options for what you share to the public versus friends versus friends of friends. While these tools are great for customization, it means you literally need to change 10-15 different settings in order to make your profile information only visible to friends. If there is a quicker way to do it, I could not find it easily. I had to do three different searches to figure out how to make the changes and then view my profile as someone else. For anyone interested in doing the same, here are the links on how to do it:

  1. http://www.facebook.com/about/control/
  2. http://www.facebook.com/help/?faq=240378842640511
  3. http://www.facebook.com/help/?faq=%20290447131050867

I understand social media sites are built on people sharing information It has been a while since I created a profile on a social media website, so this might be the case now, but it would be nice if when you registered you have to choose to make information public as opposed to having to change the settings to make them more restricted.

3) This topic is of interest to me, because I often see these postings with gross grammatical errors, misspellings, syntax , dangling participles and other problems. I guess my question is- Don’t these individuals realize how this makes them look? (I am not going to use the word “ stupid” b cuz I know about abbreviations- but still….

I definitely understand where you are coming from on this one. This is not exclusive to social media websites, it happens on blogs and forums all the time. This question actually reminds me of something that happened recently on a hobby forum. One of the members made a post without punctuation and used several abbreviations. Another member actually called out the person, whose response was “Who cares? There is no grammar police on the internet.” Personally, if someone does not take the time to proofread their responses, that is probably someone who I will not deal without outside of the forum. I have definitely had autocorrect cause some issues in the past, but those are usually one off situations. I think in some situations, people don’t care. I could see the mentality. If you are just talking to friends, why does it matter?

4) Now, let’s talk a bit about legal issues—-boy meets girl, girl meets boy, they have sex and he gets herpes. Or vice versa. What are the legal issues about one of these individuals posting that “ John or Jane “ has herpes ?

I had never thought about this scenario, but it is an interesting one. Unfortunately, I do not have the qualifications to discuss legal matters.

5) I have seen some postings where some individual is “thinking about ending it all “. What is Facebook or Twitter or Yahoo’s responsibility if any?

This is another one of those difficult situations. I have heard stories of this happening on sites like Facebook. Again, I do not have a legal background to comment on the responsibilities in situations like these. I do know that Facebook has some resources to help users when something like this arises.

  1. http://www.facebook.com/help/?faq=216817991675637#How-do-I-help-someone-who-has-posted-suicidal-content-on-the-site?
  2. http://www.facebook.com/help/contact/?id=305410456169423

6) I know that there are these blogs and chat rooms etc. I also know that there are some warnings, but still- there is the issue of what is appropriate and what information should a person divulge or stand by? And in Twitter/Facebook etc- If people are talking about oral sex/anal sex/sex with animals etc etc. Who, if anyone intervenes?

That is an excellent question and I honestly don’t know the answer. I have seen a couple of situations where someone has their account information compromised on Facebook and inappropriate material is posted. This type of content is usually removed quickly as it is against their community standards.

  1. http://www.facebook.com/communitystandards

7) Recently, some politician in New York was disgraced for posting pictures of his private parts- so there was some ramifications and repercussions to his actions…But for the average individual- is there any feedback/caution?

I know people can be banned from social media sites for violating the rules. In terms of legal actions outside of someone being blocked from using the site, I do not have the legal background to comment.

8) Some information that is posted would lead one to believe that “this person needs to see a psychologist or psychiatrist “ –if they believe they have been visited by space aliens etc. Your thoughts on this?

When I was an undergrad working in the lab, about once a year someone would come in to chat with a professor about some way out there idea like seeing aliens, so this is not specific to social media sites. The only difference is that social media sites make it easier for someone to reach a larger audience. As long as they are not hurting anyone or breaking the site rules, I really don’t have a problem with it. If someone on my friend list started doing something similar and I did not agree, I would probably just block their posts from showing up in my feeds.

Nowadays I see a lot more political posts for or against politicians / political parties. We did another infographic on social media politics on one of our other sites OnlineColleges.com that discusses this issue.

A. http://www.onlinecolleges.com/infographics/social-media-politics.html

I know a lot of the forums I visit actually ban political threads as they usually do not end well. Personally, when someone posts too many political threads on a site like Facebook, I will block their posts from showing up in my feed. I am fine with one or two, but when someone posts them daily or multiple times a day, I would rather look at something else.

9) Tell us about this infographic if you would.

This infographic discusses the topic of whether people are sharing too much online. I think I am definitely in the 90% of adults that think the answer is yes. The infographic also discusses the types of information people are willing to share and why people share in the first place. Finally, there’s a section at the end that discusses the factors that motivate oversharing, which is one of the most intriguing elements of the infographic. Oversharing is often discussed as a kind of filter problem, but the studies in the visual suggest that there are powerful rewards motivating people to share personal information. That suggests that the social and psychological benefits to oversharing may be powerful enough to overcome the risks associated with it.

I think it is also interesting that people complain about others who overshare, but very few people actually confess to doing it. It just shows you that there is no set standard on what constitutes oversharing.

Finally, I think this infographic tries to address the concerns over privacy options and how people are using them to limit access to the information they share. And while the infographic mainly discusses social networking sites, the same thing applies to cell phone applications. I know when I download an app, I usually just hit accept when it comes to the terms and conditions. As this becomes more prevalent, I do find myself not installing some apps if they want to access more information than I think they need. In these situations, I look for another app that serves the same function.

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