The way we communicate as a society is changing. We are increasingly spending more and more time on our computers rather than in face-to-face interactions. With this transition into a more digital world, comes a question of privacy. Where we used to tell our best friend about our bad day over lunch, we are now posting it as our Facebook status, for all to see.
This idea of privacy in a digital age brings up a number of questions: what should be considered private in the social media sphere? How can you protect yourself from unwanted attention? And most importantly, how should you present yourself in the online community?
Let’s begin with a look at the big picture. There are three types of public personas a person can choose, the two extremes – everything is public, or everything is private – and then somewhere in between.
Of course, you should be somewhere in between.
Complete anonymity detaches you from what is made public, which some may see as a good thing, but others see as a bad thing. It gives people the sense that you’re hiding something, and it devalues what you have to say because it removes the social integrity of having a real person behind the product. When you desire to be anonymous, it often means you do not want to be associated with the material presented – perhaps out of shame, or out of fear of defacement.
Then on the flip side, having everything public is also a bad idea. When your whole life is made public, it is difficult to escape from reality. Not that a person should run from their problems, but more that they should be given the opportunity to choose when, and with whom they share this information.
Case-in-point: celebrities. Turn on the tv set, open a magazine, or browse the internet and you will see celebrity faces everywhere. As a culture, we have become obsessed with these public figures – everyone from politicians to athletes, and musicians to actors. What we see as a window into glorious lifestyles, they see as haunting. These individuals suffer in the public eye. Sure we get the good stuff, like how Prince William and Kate Middleton will soon tie the knot – but we also eat up the bad stuff, like Disney star Miley Cyrus taking a hit off a bong.
Rather than find yourself on the extreme ends, saddle yourself in the middle. The idea is to be in complete control of your online public persona. You choose what is placed in the social media sphere.
To protect yourself from the potential harm of making things public, be conscience of what you put out there. Think about what you’re posting, and who could conceivably see it, before you post it. If you don’t want it known, don’t make it accessible.
Side note: Even though this may seem like a no-brainer, I have to say it – don’t give out information that makes you susceptible to identity theft, such as bank account and credit card numbers, driver’s license, social security number, etc. etc. Only give this information to reputable companies in exchange for goods or services you desire. If you’re uncertain of a company or organization’s credibility, Google them. If in doubt, don’t offer the information.
A number of people have complained about potential employers looking up job applicants on Facebook. There are many potential hazards to this – they may see statuses of you complaining about your current job, or they may see drunken party pictures tagged by your friends. Again, the key is to be in control of your public persona. It is probably best to leave the job complaining off Facebook, knowing that future employers, or your current boss, may see. You decide what is made public. You post those statuses, no one else does it for you. Think about what you are making public, before it goes online.
Okay, but what about the party pictures problem? Your friends are tagging you, you are not choosing to put these pictures up. Well, there are ways to untag yourself and remove these pictures, but who wants to go through all that hoopla? Ah, might I be so bold as to say that perhaps it is not the tagging that is the issue, but maybe the lifestyle? If you don’t want to be seen as a lush, don’t be a lush. If you are ashamed of others seeing what you’re doing in the public sphere, maybe you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing – or, at the very least, stop being ashamed of it.
This brings me to the benefits of publicly sharing yourself online. Having a sort of social checks and balances helps us function as individuals. We as people generally care about the way we are perceived by others. Placing ourselves in the social media sphere is a great resource for uncensored reviews. People aren’t afraid to speak their minds online, nor are they afraid to be themselves – and you shouldn’t either. This raw, real truth, is something very beneficial to us.
I will use myself as the example this time. I recently decided to put up my art photography on the online social picture sharing site Flickr. I was naturally nervous at first. I am very attached to my photos and I was scared that putting them online would cause them to be stolen and reused in ways I had not intended.
But then I began to think about it, why did I take these photos in the first place? Was it so they could sit on my computer, only to be viewed during my screen saver slide show after my keyboard becomes inactive for five minutes? No. I sought recognition. I entered these photos in art competitions, and had some of them published in a book. They were, whether I was readily able to admit it or not, intended for public consumption.
Being in the public eye gives us the reassurance and recognition we naturally seek – the caressing and coddling of our egos. Why take pictures, if no one will see them? Why write, if no one will read? Why do anything, if not for the social gratification provided as a result? The benefits of being in the public sphere far outweigh the consequences, so stop being afraid to share, and wire your life into the world-wide web. Times are definitely changing, and if you don’t hop aboard the bandwagon, we’re just going to leave you behind.