Today, I want to tell you something about this lad. Let’s just say, his name is Jonas. Jonas lived on the street for almost 2 years, before he started his training as an office clerk. At the age of 16, he felt like leaving home and school to become a rebellious punk. Now, he’s 24 years old and wears suit and tie; he works in a local branch bank and makes almost 40 grand a year. He dislikes techno, but enjoys rock music. He is an avid reader of philosophy, but avoids romance. Sometimes, he recites Nietzsche or Hobbes. I even know his location. His family, however, does not; leaving his family went along with the termination of any contact. I know that, too.
All in all, I really know many things about Jonas, even though I have never met him in person and I am afraid this might never happen. This sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it? Frankly speaking, I even think that I know more about him – now – than most of his closest fellows did when he was a teenager.
In fact, this is not half as weird as it might appear at first. Today, most people share very private information on social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Yeah, blogging sites, too. Ironically, everyone warns children against revealing too much about themselves towards total strangers on the net, because it might be dangerous. Yet most adult people do not realize this applies to them just as much as to children. What makes us think that we should not be as careful?
It is actually a well-known fact that almost every digital native employer looks for information about their potential job applicants on various websites, such as Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and counting. There are, in fact, zillions of websites dedicated to this single purpose. What’s the consequence? They often find information which the job candidate does not want them to have at all and intentionally left out in their application!
In real life, people do not freely give strangers private information such as their address, private photos or philosophical insights. This simply isn’t rational in any way, because private information requires a corresponding level of trust. Telling a total stranger about your holiday schedule might be perceived as an invitation to burglary happy hour. Yet people do so on social networks and some of them get robbed. If the holiday trip falls through and they forget to update their status, they might also get killed. You also would not tell your boss you skive off work, because you enjoy the sun and beach so much. Yet people post holiday pictures on Facebook, but hand in a certificate of illness at work – despite having their boss in their friend list. Bravo.
What on earth makes people behave so differently and shortsightedly on (anti-)social media? I think a major factor lies in the way communcation works. It is, in fact, quite difficult to start communicating with anyone, if you don’t know anything about that person. Communication requires information. Thus the revelation of personal information, even if it’s just a random thought (like the one you’re reading right now!), becomes the basic requirement for social networks to work, in particular those networks that function as a self-publicizing platform and happen to connect a lot of strangers – such as Twitter, Instagram and this ridiculously huge blogsphere.
Another important factor is the seek for AAA. Of course, I’m not talking about the battery type, but rather attention, admiration and approval. This endeavor also requires the presentation of private information; otherwise there would be nothing to pay attention to, admire or approve. From my point of view, this is by far the most dangerous reason – given some people do very crazy stuff to stay in the spotlight! Luckily (or unluckily!?), there are plenty of populous virtual sanctuaries that just exist for the sake of soothing our human ego; it’s easier than ever before. Maybe too easy? In addition to that, I have the impression that most people really overestimate their level of anonymity on the internet despite the red-hot controversy on big data, privacy, hacking and surveillance.
Now these places and actions might be virtual, but the consequences are real. That’s for sure. Once the private information is out there, it might stay there forever, because deleting data from the web for good is not even remotely as simple as it sounds. What you share also becomes very accessible to the public and most likely also to unmeant audiences. There are countless of cases of people who already have lost their work, study place, friends, fiances and more due to sharing fatal information online. I’m sure you know about at least one person who went through this. Not to mention the various other risks, such as identity thieves who abuse your private data in order to make fake profiles and trick your friends or sell your information to advertisers.
On the whole, I think we should be way more conscious of the real consequences of our virtual habits and always keep the risks of oversharing online in the back of our mind. Maybe we should make a habit of asking ourselves the following question before sharing anything with the digital world: “Would I feel comfortable revealing this message about myself to the readership in a physical room in the real world?”
If the answer is no, …
As always, I’m looking forward to reading your feedback and opinions, so feel free to drop a line in the comment section.
Take care, virtual world.