Written by: Noah Rue
For most of us, social media is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it provides an utterly incredible opportunity for a high level of connectedness such as we’ve never seen before. On the other hand, all of this information and sharing can lead to extreme oversteps in protecting our personal data and privacy.
All of this begs the questions: What is the price of social media connectedness? What do we have to accept or be willing to give up in order to meet our privacy goals?
Probably the biggest benefit that most of us get out of social media today is its unique ability to connect us, whether we’re stuck at home for quarantine or just trying to keep up with our kid’s adventures. It doesn’t matter if your friends or family live across the street or across the globe, you can interact with them daily, share photos, and remain a significant part of their lives at the touch of a button. These types of connections may be taken for granted by many younger generations, but the novelty of it all is still jaw-dropping to many of those who were around prior to the development of the Internet.
Beyond just the connections, different types of social media provide a user experience to cater to nearly every desire. You can use Instagram if you are visual and would rather just communicate with photos of your life. If you like the photos but hate the permanency, you could opt for Snapchat, which allows you to take and send photos with funny filters that only last a short period of time before disappearing. Alternatively, Twitter offers more of an outlet for short, witty updates, while Facebook is more of a one-stop-shop for updates and photos.
Social media has also provided numerous business and personal opportunities as well as a means to share brand preferences. Some famous musicians have even been discovered because of their creative use of social media. Brands can cater to those who are most likely to purchase from them, small sellers have a cheap and easy means of advertising their products, and consumers have an incredibly powerful means of communicating directly with brands in a public setting.
Of course, nothing is perfect, and with all of this good comes a great deal of bad. The primary issue surrounding most social media platforms and accounts is privacy concerns. Many users are required to enter some personal data to create an account, then social media platforms collect and resell data based on usage of those accounts.
Collecting quantifiable social media data is big business. Companies collect basic demographic information from your profile and then use inferences from the data such as the ads you click on and the pages you like/follow to ascertain what your preferences are and which products you are more likely to buy if they are advertised to you. In some cases, this information determines which news headlines you see and influences and manipulates your views in such a way to possibly alter elections and challenge our democracy.
The line between social media for fun and for business has also been seriously blurred. This can be a good thing for many small companies trying to make it in a tough market, but it isn’t necessarily good for the majority of us. Finding a good work-life balance is important for well-being, and this may mean forcing yourself to only “work” on social media during work hours and not whenever you have a spare minute.
Social media has the incredible ability to connect us and provides opportunities we would have never had otherwise. However, it comes with a dark side that involves giving up a certain level of privacy. For some, this is a compromise they accept willingly and perhaps even prefer. For others, serious concerns exist and will continue to exist until stronger regulations on data privacy are put in place and enforced. And still, for others, there is no acceptable risk, and social media is no longer an option.