For many years, the combination of video cameras, the Internet, and television have enabled many individuals, both talented and not so talented, to gain as much attention and fame as society will give them. Anyone today can easily attain and bask in their “15 minutes of fame”. For instance, there are plenty ordinary people on YouTube who have literally become famous and now earn their living by filming their lives and sharing it with the masses on the interweb. Daily vloggers and YouTube stars, Shay Carl and Charles Trippy, have amassed over 1 million followers each simply by giving people a behind-the-scenes look, so to speak, into their daily lives – their families, their work, their dreams, their highs, and their lows. After watching a few of their videos (or all of them…) you really feel like you know them on a personal level.
However, this isn’t for everybody. A lot of people are not comfortable with exposing the details of their daily lives on the Internet for everyone to see. If you didn’t catch it, that was a joke. One only has to look to Facebook and Twitter to see that this isn’t true. Like Shay Carl and Charles Trippy, we find it easy to share what we are doing every second of the day. All it takes is a status update like “Eating lunch at (insert restaurant name) with (Insert friend’s name) followed by gym, then homework” to let people know what we are doing, where we are, who we are with, and even what our schedule looks like. It should therefore not surprise us that we find our lives and the things we share garnering the attention of both friends and complete strangers. What should surprise you, however, and perhaps is more important to this conversation of online privacy is that the information that we do post online gains the attention of corporations as well, “people” who after getting acquainted with your search history, your wall posts, and your interests for some time also feel they know you on a personal level.
The explosion and popularity of social media has turned the individual consumer into a very visible and digital amalgamation of interests, friendships, likes, geographic locations, pictures, and wall posts which for companies looking to make a buck, is awesome. Companies can freely access our pages, which essentially serve as a gold mine of information that they can use to tweak and perfect their marketing and advertising strategies more effectively target us. Companies will use the information they can access to learn more about our personalities (whether we like traveling, food, sports, volunteering), our stage in life (whether we are married, single, the type of job we have) and even our household (where we live, if we have a pet, if we have a house or an apartment) to try and entice you on a deeper level to purchase their product.
Not only are companies trying to sell products to users with the help of social media, they are also using social media to look at potential employees. People have become extremely conscientious about their Facebook and LinkedIn pages when applying for jobs because they want to make sure that they present themselves in a professional light. Companies look at these sites to get a sense of a prospective candidate for employment and really place a significant emphasis on an acceptable social appearance. This has forced users to try and find the balance between sharing too much and sharing too little to the point that privacy has been commoditized. Too much privacy and an employer can’t get to know you; too little privacy and an employer might be turned away.
Ultimately, the massive collection and dissemination of our personal information has got people wondering – when will we be able to regain “15 minutes of privacy”?
But who is really to blame for our invasion of privacy, the social media giants or ourselves? One could argue that we place ourselves in these predicaments of vulnerability. By making a Facebook profile one is essentially signing away the right to control of one’s personal information and the right to seclusion and secrecy. We cannot complain about our privacy online if we are continuing to post all of our sensitive personal information willy-nilly.
On the flip side, these social media titans should handle the information that we do give them – either directly or inadvertently – responsibly. We should be able to hold these social media sites accountable to some extent. Efforts have been made by Facebook to be more transparent with users about the information that is being used like detailing the types of information that an application will use if approved and used by the Facebook user. But is that enough? Shouldn’t the user have more of say in how their information is collected and disseminated?
So from all us social media users to the social media titans and the information-digging companies: