I’m just as tired hearing about “Weinergate” as the next person. The issue has saturated our airwaves and become inescapable, but more importantly it is a reminder of how easily we can lose control of our personal information. Despite that, people are more willing now than ever to share personal information and photos on the internet. As Congressman Weiner is learning right now, the moment something is on the internet you can’t control it or get it back. In short, that photo belongs to everyone now. Literally. Everyone. And they are all willing to share it with everyone they know. Literally. Everyone.
While it’s easy to opt-out of my warning because you’re (most likely) not a member of Congress, it should be remembered that this situation is applicable to anyone, at any age of any status. We’re constantly lured into a false sense of security about our private information with passwords and “verify you’re human” checks. The bottom line is that once it’s on the internet, a dedicated person can find it, use it, and share it. Remember last month when millions of user accounts were stolen from the once considered untouchable Playstation Network?
Or maybe it doesn’t take a skilled hacker. Just one small careless typo can be the difference between a direct message on Twitter and an “@” to all of your friends and family. It’s becoming increasingly important to be literate in social media. A misunderstanding of the implications of a “like” or a “tag” can cause an unexpected amount of stress, and, in some cases, regret. How you understand the technology behind what you share is up to you. You can be like my mom and call your son/daughter for technical assistance or you can independently research online, but when it comes to your personal information, a “trial and error” strategy probably isn’t the best. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.
Sharing parts of you online has become the social norm and that’s okay. Just make sure the parts you’re sharing would be appropriate for your mother and employer to see (as my own personal rule, only wrestlers, swimmers, and bodybuilders should be seen in spandex in a Facebook profile picture). And let’s be honest, whoever you’re sharing with can probably wait until the next time they see you…in person.
The takeaway? Think before you post. Beware of what you share. But most importantly, understand the implications of the channels you use to share your information.