In the early days of the Internet, screen names and avatars were used for system log-ins and authentication purposes as well as identification. Bulletin board and chat room users felt comfortable expressing themselves and communicating with others under the guise of a fairly anonymous username and eventually a corresponding cartoonish image. Interacting with complete strangers across the globe felt somewhat safer when a person was represented as “BeatlesFanGirl22” or “ComputerGuy15”, for example, rather than Jane Smith or John Brown.
Evolution of Technology
As technology and the Internet itself evolved, so did protocol and users. Email addresses that used real names as opposed to pseudonyms became common, and the launch of social media platforms such as MySpace and photo sharing sites like PhotoBucket provided people with the ability to keep in touch with friends and family. It was easier – and made more sense – to do so with actual contact information rather than usernames.
As Internet accessibility became easier and associated costs were driven down, the general public began expressing themselves and interacting socially on the Web. Everyone from pre-teens to grandmothers started sharing their thoughts, opinions, and pictures on Facebook and Twitter. Eventually the need to mail birthday cards and annual Christmas newsletters even diminished greatly because everyone already knew what was going on. Social media was fun!
You’re Not Home?
The development of smart phones and eventually tablets with cameras, Internet accessibility, and location-based services allow users to broadcast their whereabouts and share images with friends and family while they are still on the go. Although convenient –and undeniably exciting – this information can unfortunately also be used for other purposes.
Platforms like Foursquare and Yelp, which allow and encourage users to “check in” and notify others when they are at a particular restaurant, bar, store, or other establishment, can not only inform people with ill intentions – for example, an angry ex or a stalker – where someone is, they also make it public knowledge that someone is not at home. A website called Please Rob Me caused headlines when it attempted to make people realize just how easy it was to use location check-ins to determine someone’s home and when they were not there!
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Work Life vs. Personal Life
Work-life balance has also changed radically since social media hit the scene. LinkedIn allows and encourages online networking and job hunting opportunities, but many people also “friend” co-workers on websites that are not work-specific.
Depending on what information and photographs are shared with whom, someone’s colleagues could have access to material that most people would not deem appropriate for work – such as pictures or even videos that show someone scantily dressed in revealing attire, drinking alcoholic beverages, or in an uncompromising situation. Many people feel unconcerned about these possibilities, but photos could potentially cause irreparable reputation damage at the office or in an entire industry.
Additionally, it can be tough to draw other lines between personal and professional relationships. For example, some teachers have no qualms about friending their students on social media websites, but others refrain for personal or even legal reasons—some school districts have social media policies in place that do not allow teachers to have online relationships with students just for safety’s sake.
As social media platforms continue to thrive, it is growing increasingly difficult for people to protect their own privacy online. Most people would agree that social media is still fun, but privacy laws and concerns are beginning to take precedence over enjoyment. Police departments and courts of law can now use social media accounts as evidence. Potential employers and colleges admittedly “research” applicants online before reaching out for further contact.
Facebook’s privacy regulations and settings seem to change at the drop of a hat; platforms have been known to sell users’ personal information to other parties. “Private” photos and comments can easily be made public accidentally or when they appear on friends of friends’ pages. It is also easy for nearly anyone to make hasty judgments about a person based on their Facebook “Likes” and Twitter Retweets.
We are living in a digital age and it is growing harder and harder to exist without having social media profiles. Even though people will most likely continue to make their personal lives public, it is wise advice to think twice before you post anything. Even if it is deleted mere seconds later, there is a chance that someone out there saw it and your actions could come back to haunt you.