When a Camden resident asked his Select Board last week why its members felt it their business to respond to comments other citizens made on Facebook, he seemed genuinely surprised.

“I have a Facebook [account],” George Barnard said at the board’s May 17 meeting. “It’s been my understanding that a Facebook account is for me and my select personal group of friends or family. My question is, are the comments I made on Facebook private.”

The answer to this question was a resounding, “No.”

Posting a comment on Facebook is akin to running off millions of photocopies and simultaneously posting them on utility poles in every city and country around the world; in fact, once the writer has hit the return key, the posting is beyond the originator’s control. Anyone who clicks the buttons that say “like” or “share” instantly places that comment on the virtual walls of thousands of other readers.

At its most extreme, this phenomenon is called “going viral” and it’s a risk that teachers, parents, employers and others have begun to recognize.

Ask any college student if information posted to Facebook is private and you’ll hear the same answer that the Camden Select Board gave last week.

Ask employment recruiters and you’ll learn that they often check Facebook pages of those they are considering for hire, just to see what sort of public indiscretions those candidates may have committed.

Many years ago, at the dawning of email, Judith Martin — Miss Manners — told radio listeners that high speed messages were often far too easy to deliver, and far too difficult to reconsider.

Ownership of intellectual property, those creations of the mind, such as inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, names, images and designs, are recognized as belonging to their creators or publishers when they appear in print. When those same creations show up as pixels on a screen, however, many see them as fair game for joint ownership. This, despite the fact that colleges teach that such works may not be copied without express permission. As the first group of Mainers to be given laptop computers as educational tools near college graduation, legal scholars still argue about how define ownership in an age when the creation is visible to the world in seconds.

Whatever the lawyers decide, juicy tidbits will continue to become de-facto public property in the time it takes to say “cut and paste.”

Comments posted on Facebook, or Twitter, on digital bulletin boards and in chat rooms manifest in a public venue, like it or not. Unlike private email messages, the purpose of social media is spread information, or respond to events or thoughts, as immediately as possible. Social media are the digital equivalent of public meeting spaces.

The ease of those conversations demands forethought, and civility. That is what we often forget as we charge ahead at the speed of thought.