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Users and websites are responsible for online security

Illustration by Tina Wallace

When you post a picture on Facebook, you do so with the intention of having other people see it. That being said, people expect to have a certain amount of control over who gets to see what—a promise most social networks offer but can’t always seem to deliver.

Take the tragic story of Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old girl from Nova Scotia who was driven to commit suicide this past April. Parsons was allegedly sexually assaulted when she was 15 and endured relentless cyber bullying until she decided to take her own life.

To make matters worse, earlier this month a photo of Parsons was taken from her Facebook page and used for an advertisement promoting an online dating site.

The incident has created a whirlwind of debate about whether social networks should be held solely responsible for the privacy and security of their users or if it is the user’s responsibility to exercise caution.

If anything, the responsibility shouldn’t fall on one party alone. The dating company had no right to make use of Parsons’ photo for the purpose of promotion, but Facebook should have had security measures in place to prevent companies from invading the privacy of its users. Users should also bear some of the responsibility, because they are the ones who ultimately make the decision to have their private lives on display.

The Internet is an ever-expanding universe. To navigate through it and pass unscathed, we must be aware of every rule and regulation we agree to. It is our responsibility to become familiar with these guidelines and boundaries, and to know who truly has access to our shared information.

The improper use of Rehtaeh Parsons’ photo should teach us that accountability comes from every party involved. Social networks like Facebook are built upon their capacity to work with multiple parties. They are interconnected systems that depend on everyone involved so that the experience can remain a positive one.

Was Facebook at fault for using that photo without permission? The answer is a definite yes, and Facebook obviously realized this given their hasty response in taking it down. But the fault is not theirs alone.

We apply caution and common sense in all other aspects of our lives and the Internet should be no different. In the end, if you truly want something to remain private and hidden from prying eyes, there is only one foolproof solution: don’t post it online.