There's the problem with my last post ("Privacy on Facebook? Get over it.")

It's easy to get on a soap box to scold people who share private information in a public forum, but it can be extraordinarily hard to recover from making an honest mistake in front of the world.

Sometimes, fucking up on the Internet is like peeing your pants during a high school presentation — terribly embarassing, and the butt of jokes for years to come. You didn't choose to do it, but never the less, there it is. Bummer.

Other times, it's quite a bit more serious. Your boss sees those pictures of you, and decides it's time to let you go. An estranged lover finds your e-mail address and starts sending you threatening messages. An abusive family member gets in touch with your kids.

How do you prevent these sorts of situations? What do you do when they happen?

Despite the somewhat flip ending to my last post, it's not possible to simply hide under a rock. You are interconnected with the billions people who have access to the Internet, whether you're on it or not.

Preventing these sorts of situations can be simple, but there is no silver bullet. On one hand, we're all responsible for making reasonable decisions about what we decide to share, and we should do our best to understand the ramifications of how our information could be used. On the other, service providers (such as Facebook) are responsible for being honest about what they do with out information, and should make it as easy as possible for us to manage our privacy on their systems.

Responding to privacy violations is similarly two sided. People who are familiar with privacy issues and the Internet are responsible for helping other people understand and correct the mistakes they've made. It's not a big leap to assume that people who read this fall into that category: we need to look out for our friends and family, and speak up when we see something out of place.

On the flip side, companies that deal with personal information should be responsible for violations that can be attributed to inaccurate policies, poor communication, technical malfunction, or outright malicious behavior. It is not unreasonable for a company to be legally liable for mishandling sensitive data they asked for and have been trusted with — especially when money is changing hands.

It sucks, but bad things happen to good people, often times for reasons that are out of their control. I believe we have a fundamental obligation to give people the opportunity to redeem themselves, and to help those who simply shared the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Your mistakes on Facebook may be recorded in the annals of Internet History — but so are the good things you do.  Take care of yourself, stand up for others, and you'll probably do alright.

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