It would be an understatement to say that social media and other social networking sites are becoming increasingly popular, because they are, and it often seems like some of the biggest headlines in the business and technology papers concern social media, such as Facebook's recent floatation announcement, and Twitter's impassioned attack on Google's much-maligned Search, plus Your World.
Despite the headlines, the squabbling and the drama, it's now apparent to even some of social media's harshest critics that it's more than a passing phase, and what started as a phenomenon has become big business for companies around the world, and part of daily life for almost anyone with an internet connection. But the popularity of social media has led users into a new and previously undiscovered realm of sharing information online, and with millions of people uploading images, blogs, status updates, tweets and other insights into their lives online daily, the question has to be asked, “Is there a downside to making so much information public on a social networking site?”
The quick answer, is of course, yes, and oversharing specific details of our lives is something which most users are guilty of – after all, many people use their social networking profiles to keep in touch with family and friends, and as a result often post details of holidays, trips and sometimes life changing events, such as weddings or births and other celebrations. But because it's now become acceptable for users to update sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and MySpace (yes, it still exists) with details of their daily lives. And as some might argue, why not? Surely everyone has the right to broadcast what they like on the internet – within reason, of course.
The short answer is, yes, social networking sites were created so that people could communicate, could share information, such as images, blogs posts and other pieces of their work online. But while users have the right to post their own content, every time they update their own corner of the internet they also have a responsibility to themselves to ensure that what they post doesn't insult anyone, or damage their own reputation. While I'm sure we're all guilty of posting something that in hindsight we shouldn't have, one of the things that makes social media so popular is the instant nature of it – you post something and then anyone, no matter where they are in the world, can see it- can also be the most dangerous part of it. Once it's online, it's available for everyone to see, and even taking an incriminating update down straight after you have uploaded it doesn't mean that it hasn't been seen. The recent news that a pair of UK tourists were barred from entering the US following the discovery of a series of seemingly humorous tweets by one of them, where they stated their intention to 'Destroy America' and also 'Dig up Marilyn Monroe' during their holiday led to them being flagged as potential threats to the US by the Department of Homeland Security – which in turn led to them being kept under armed guard for 12 hours after they landed in LAX before being put on a plane back home to Blighty.
While the tweets themselves seem simple enough (destroy is another word for partying, as they say) but digging up Marilyn Monroe? Well, that's just a reference to the American cartoon, Family Guy, and while amusing, is a little obscure for some people, and it's very easy to misinterpret. And this is really the core of the issue, because the internet has no sarcasm alarm, no joke siren, or any other big, loud, scary noise that informs the reader that the author of the article/tweet/update/blog post they're reading wasn't being serious. Everything you do say online can be warped, misinterpreted or simply not understood, and then, unfortunately the ramblings and updates of your digital doppelgänger can be used against you.
So is social media a right or a responsibility? The answer is, it's both, but it's important to remember that it's a privilege above all else, and that we must treat it as such.