Columns / Discourse / November 16, 2011

Musings on Life: Online privacy

Again and again we’ve been reminded to be careful of what we post on the Internet, usually the main concern being privacy and safety. Posting private information on Facebook is a mistake the unsuspecting older crowd tend to make and the much younger crowd forgets to stop.

It takes a while for tweens on the internet to truly realize how public the place really is, but it takes several years before they become teenagers to look back and realize that privacy isn’t the main concern on social networks anymore, because it’s also pretty good at archiving stuff.

Sadly, by this time their realization has come a tad bit late and what’s out there is already out there. Chances are that someone might have already seen that ridiculous comment you made from three years ago before you revisited it and deleted it, leaving a gaping hole in the conversation and making the other person who replied to your comment sound like an idiot.

This issue came to mind while I was lurking around on Facebook and saw the “On This Day” feature on the sidebar which has been on for quite some time now, and it reminded me of just how much information I’ve left behind on this silly website.

It’s something that a lot of people tend to forget, because information tends to “disappear” below the “older posts” link, which would take some never-ending scrolling to see again. Or so we think.

If you are (painfully) receiving Facebook email notifications, you can click on a link from a notification from a year ago that leads to a birthday wish on your wall. It still exists. Of course, this is nothing new but there’s definitely a risk of embarrassment.

Many of us were already pretty old when we started using Facebook, but what about the younger generation? It comes back to the problem of tweens using Facebook — some kids tend to have a diary-like approach to using social networks, disclosing too much unnecessary information.

If Facebook is sort of recording your whole life, will the past eventually come back to haunt these kids when they grow older? Would statuses like “I LOVE HANNAH MONTANA” from 2007 show up on the sidebar?

The same goes for pictures — if you had pictures on Facebook before, you know, puberty, that would basically mean making all your lame childhood pictures available to your cool friends when you get older and also cool, unless you untag yourself from these pictures along the way (but they would still exist unless the uploader deleted them).

Perhaps, it’s understandable that people change over time. But being able to see how people have changed probably reveals certain vulnerabilities and could change your impression about someone. But there’s always creating a new account to escape your younger, lamer self. But what about other things?

What could be more awkward than looking back on a comment-argument on Facebook? (There are people who do this) Perhaps it ruined a relationship — then the very conversation that ruined the relationship is open for everybody in the same circle to see.

Or it could work the other way round too — maybe it was an informal conversation with someone you are no longer close to. Now you can virtually see the relationship you had with someone. It’s converted into data and archived.

You can always delete it though. There are always privacy settings, and “being careful” of what you say, but there’s only so much one can do because after all, change is inevitable and social networks are just big online scrapbooks of our turbulent lives.

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