Earlier this month, the NYPD arrested 19 people in the biggest gun bust in New York City’s history. Furthermore, Matthew Best, one of the people involved in the gun running, unknowingly aided the police in the bust by posting pictures and videos on the Internet. Best, a young man aspiring to be a rapper, shared pictures and videos of the guns and the money involved in the operation to his Instagram and YouTube accounts. The NYPD used these photos and video clips as evidence to convict Best and 19 others of gun smuggling.
Additionally, teenagers have recently been using an underground website called Silk Road to purchase drugs online. These kids then posted photos of the drugs on the Internet to brag to their friends. Police located and arrested the adolescents for possession after finding the drug photos on the teens’ personal social media websites.
These stories are two prime examples of how transparent our world is today. Many Internet users are convinced that, since their privacy settings are configured so only their friends can see what they share, their photos and videos and status updates are only seen by a handful of people. This is not true. It is crucial to understand that ANYTHING you put on the Internet, regardless of who you think is able to see it, can potentially be seen by ANYBODY.
We are living in a time in which everybody is documenting everything they do. New parents take hundreds of pictures and videos of their babies and share it on Facebook. “Foodies” take photos of their meals and share it on Instagram. Aunts and uncles film their nieces’ and nephews’ piano recitals on iPhones. These photos and videos are wonderful to share with friends and family, but the impact of these picture and video files goes much further than that. Many people don’t realize that they are slowly but surely creating a long-lasting archive of their entire lives; not just for our friends and family, but for EVERYONE.
Sending out a Tweet with an F-bomb or a tactless comment can seem harmless. Tweets are short, fleeting, and innumerable, which makes it easy for them to appear to “get lost in the noise.” Again, this is not so. It is absolutely imperative to understand that these so-called “harmless” Tweets are not getting lost “in the cloud.” They are being documented, aggregated, and archived. They do not go away. They still exist on the Internet, and are visible to many more people than you might think.
Another example: By posting a picture of yourself and a close friend, you may be using social media as a sort of online diary. You’re saving that personal memory in picture form and putting it in a place where you know you and your close friend can access it at anytime and look back on it fondly. While this might have been a fairly normal way to use social media in the past, this is not the case in 2013. Today, it’s important to think of your social media networks as public display of your personal identity. Whatever you post on your social media pages, consider it a digital representation of how you want others to see you.
The name of the game is transparency. Get comfortable with the fact that certain aspects of your life that were once private are now becoming more and more publicly accessible. My advice is to treat the social networks you use as a personal résumé for your life. Treat everything you share on the Internet as something you would be comfortable sharing with your grandmother, acquaintance, or next employer. If you’ve just finished writing a short story, share it on your social places and be proud of it. You might just get noticed by a newspaper that wants you to write a segment for their online column. If you’ve just done something illegal and want to brag about it, DO NOT share it on your social places. You might just end up in prison.
Do you think social media has become too public? Do you feel that there’s not enough privacy on social media? Share your thoughts in the comments below.