Media Scare Tactics About Facebook Burglars Revealed by Jeff Jarvis


Some readers see articles like this from Fox News, about the “burglary ring” who found their victims using Facebook Places’ geolocation tagging and uncritically mourn the loss of privacy and dangers of the internet. Others see articles like that one and mourn the loss of basic reporting chops and critical reading. Blogging godfather and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis is the latter, and this week, he played trend story killer, outlining the flaws in not only that article, but that line of thought and how it affects our future with technology companies.

As Jarvis explains in a post on his blog Buzzmachine, he simply emailed the local detective interviewed in the story and asked for some clarification on the impossibly vague, fearmongering Fox article:

How did the accused use Facebook? In how many cases? Were they friends — that is, connected on Facebook — with any of the victims? Facebook tells me that its Places feature was not involved; true? Finally, what advice do you have for people using Facebook? Plus a few, more-detailed questions about the specifics of how these victims used Facebook.

He was told that “one or two of the suspects were Facebook friends with the respective homeowners. They basically had access to the walls and could read that the families were away on vacation. The information was only available to friends and the Facebook Places feature was NOT a part of this. And finally my advice to Facebook users is carefully pick your friends and watch what you post.”

In other words:

So this was not a case of a criminal using Facebook to find any old random victim. The implication of the coverage is that we were all — all 500 million of us — at risk for being so foolish to make ourselves public on Facebook and make ourselves vulnerable to every criminal out there. No, it’s foolish to make the wrong friends. Always has been. Still is.

But along with a lesson about journalism, Jarvis is able to smartly extrapolate the implications of ignorantly fearing popular technology instead of intelligently engaging it. “[T]rust is essential and cases such as these can ruin trust and eventually ruin companies if we cannot depend on them,” he writes, also using a recent example of a security breach within Google. The entire post is well worth a read.