Social media have swept the technology industry and the public like a tsunami, and nothing was going to stop this phenomenon when it began a few years back. Now that the waves are settling down a bit, however, we are beginning to realize that while social media are a boon to many, they may as likely be a curse.
For at least a couple of years now, I have wondered about whether or not putting personal information on the World Wide Web via social media would be a serious blow to privacy. Younger users, it seems, are willing to give up that privacy for the games and other cool perks and the ability to communicate instantly with networks far bigger than they previously could have imagined. So for them at least, privacy is not a concern–at least not yet.
An article in The Herald (Monterey County), however, offers some sobering perspective. “With social networking behemoth Facebook and its progeny, job-hunting hopefuls are able to market themselves in ways never before possible,” says author Dirk Stemerman, an attorney. “But social media sites can also pose an employment risk, depending upon how they are used. It may come as a shock to some, but posting every intimate detail of every waking hour online can potentially hurt one’s job prospects with respect to both getting a job, and keeping one.”
Good point, and the damage goes far beyond employment prospects or lack thereof. The cold hard reality is that a lot of private information is available on the Web–private information that could be used to open fraudulant bank and/or credit card accounts, or to steal one’s identity outright. When I told an audience at last year’s New Jersey Counseling Association conference that much of their Facebook info was available online regardless of whether or not the searcher was an FB member, they were shocked. A number of them went home and did such searches on themselves, only to find that their privacy was questionable at best.
The real danger here is that everyone knows that privacy on the Web is a joke, but no one quite knows what to do about it. It appears the chickens are coming home to roost, however, as we daily see more and more assaults on individual privacy. We are finally beginning to realize that even the most innocent-seeming data could be used to do us harm. Even younger users who didn’t previously care are becoming more cautious. Two of my daughters–both in their mid-twenties–have sworn off social media for themselves and their families for this very reason.
What it comes down to is the very difficult realization that we all have private lives that we don’t wish to share with our work colleagues or even certain friends or family members. Social media sites provide some filtering of information, but not enough (indeed, limiting interaction would work against their interests). Until some meaningful privacy legislation is in place–or until online security becomes much, much better–we need to stop being exhibitionists and to look out for our own lives and finances.