The Privacy Perils for Facebook Freaks

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In one of the Facebook groups for kinky polyamorous people that I’m a member of, there was a bit of a commotion. One of the admins, whose enthusiasm for expanding the group’s membership clouded their foresight, changed the security settings on the group from Secret to Closed. Some of the members who saw the notification of this happening and knew the potentially outing ramifications of it were understandably put into a bit of a panic over it. After all, it can lead to some really unpleasant consequences if Facebook recommends a group with both “poly” and “BDSM” in the name to your extremely conservative and gossipy Aunt Gertrude with your name attached as a member. The family Christmas party becoming a hundred times more awkward is just one of the milder possible outcomes.

Unfortunately, being outed as kinky and polyamorous can have much more serious consequences for some people. People have lost homes, jobs, and custody of their children over things like that. Online missteps can have real world outcomes and this incident reminded me how people can easily fall into the trap of thinking their situation is universal to others in the same group. Especially when online, where it’s easy to subconsciously perceive the lives of people you’ve never met with the same kind of regard one has for NPCs in a role-playing game.

In this case, the admin in question quickly recognized their mistake and took responsibility for not thinking how the change could affect others because they had the privilege of not needing to worry about it as much other might. It was a humble and graceful way of handling the situation. Unfortunately, not everyone is so willing to accept accountability for a mistake that endangers other, with a good counterexample being another admin who responded to the situation by threatening to shut down the group because they felt too harshly criticized by people upset about potentially being outed.

While interacting online or offline with any subculture that doesn’t have full mainstream acceptance carries risks of exposure, Facebook is an especially tricky space to engage with those communities online for a few reasons.

Facebook is a juggernaut in terms of how many people’s lives it has assimilated into its collective. I can think of few other sites where people are connected online not just to a subset of people in their lives but to people involved in nearly every aspect of their lives. Most people have not just friends friended on Facebook, but family, co-workers, acquaintances from social groups that it would be a huge stretch to call friends but they gave you a ride to the meeting/church/bar/sex dungeon that one time so you felt obligated to accept their friend request.

A funny example of this was when my ex-wife (at the time, current wife) made a comment on one of my posts referring to a group sex situation we’d been involved in and my sister saw it and made a comment about made a comment alluding to the need for brain bleach. This is funny because my sister is cool. Where I less open about my lifestyle and my sister not so cool, this could have been an exceptionally unfunny situation where she could have created all sorts of drama for me.

Facebook also has a real name policy that’s so ridiculously enforced that my daughters couldn’t use their actual birth names to sign up because Facebook rejected them as real. This makes it harder to maintain anonymity and allows for nosy assholes to find people and snoop into their lives without those people even knowing it. If you’re savvy, there are ways to reduce this risk but because of Facebook not always keeping settings where you left them or things like admins of secret groups changing them to closed groups your privacy is never truly quite as secure as what your settings would like you to believe.

Worst of all, because of the real name policy depriving one of anonymity it opens the door to those with malicious intent sharing things you posted under a particular privacy setting with people that the privacy setting was meant to keep away from that information.

So be careful out there, especially on Facebook. Unless you’re like me and have no fucks to give about who knows what about your lifestyle, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the various ways Facebook could leave you exposed if you engage with non-mainstream communities like polyamory or BDSM. If you’ve got a lot to lose by being exposed, you may want to consider choosing different venues for connecting with others of like mind that don’t insist you hand out your real name or aren’t also deeply tied to your more vanilla life the way Facebook tends to be.

(Discerning Deviant is supported entirely through reader sponsorship via the Discerning Deviant Patreon.)

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