Anonymous or not?
By: Asna Ali
Before social media became such a pervasive presence in our internet lives online browsing was – for the most part – an anonymous experience.
Users were wary of giving out their personal information and it was recommended by most online security experts that even email addresses or instant messenger accounts should not contain one’s real name or other identifiers.
The internet was populated by nameless and faceless entities that hid behind their computer screens and used their online time to indulge in activities and interests considered too risqué or strange for their real lives.
Interest groups, message boards and blogs contained no holds barred discussions with commenter’s spewing bigoted, racist or otherwise inappropriate points of view without any fear of recrimination beyond having their grammar corrected by someone.
Fast forward to 2012 and our digital lives have gone through a 180 degree change. Facebook, Twitter and many other social media websites have turned their users into mini celebrities who take great pleasure in documenting and broadcasting every tiny titbit of their lives for the voyeuristic delight of their ‘friends’ and ‘followers’. The idea of not revealing one’s identity online now seems as foreign as it was the norm in the past.
Unfortunately, the associated concept that the computer screen creates some sort of barrier between the real and digital world has not been let go of.
While many people are willing to pour their hearts and souls out on social media, they are unable to grasp that doing this can have potentially dangerous consequences.
Ask anyone if they would give a detailed play-by-play account of their day to a complete stranger or hand out private pictures to people on the street and the answer will most probably be in the negative; but this concern for safeguarding privacy seems to have evaporated from our internet behaviour.
As online sharing becomes easier, more and more people seem to be caving in to peer pressure or some internal desire to lift the veil from their lives and accumulate as many ‘likes’ as possible for their witty thoughts, heavily edited profile pictures and internet memes.
However, for many individuals, their penchant for inviting the world into their private lives has had negative consequences. Celebrities whose nude pictures have been leaked from under protected email accounts and teachers who have been fired for posting pictures of themselves getting drunk at parties are just some of the victims of over exposure and over sharing.
Despite claims to the contrary, the privacy policies of search engines and social networking websites are shoddy and prone to changes without the consent of their users.
Once content gets posted online, it is outside the control of its creator and taking it down is next to impossible. Even if you delete it, there is no way of knowing if it has been saved by your ISP, a website’s server or by someone else who has seen it.
Social media has enriched our digital lives in a number of ways but it is time to develop a more realistic and responsible approach to using it. It is unwise to assume that online information sharing is a one way street, that somehow what we do and say online cannot come back to haunt us.
The internet may appear to be a black hole down which millions of people can safely dump the details of their lives but it is a black hole that has the potential to regurgitate their secrets.
It seems to be an absurd idea, until it happens and you wake up to find yourself fired, arrested or worse still, the butt of a hilarious meme.