Public consumption


privacy
Image by smemon87 via Flickr

Students often get bad press, and with exams currently going on or in prospect in most colleges, they are having a tough enough time at the moment without doing it to themselves.

But the utter stupidity of a Facebook page I came across this week proves that college culture creates an astounding ignorance of the consequences of your actions.

Students throughout the country are setting up ‘Shifting pages’ on Facebook to feature pictures of their drunken (mostly) peers mauling each other. Nothing you wouldn’t see in your average student nightclub any night of the week, but not something, generally, that you’d want your mother to see.

This is one of those things that’s hilarious when you’re in college, and you know someone, and you know they will be mortified when they see it the next morning. It’s not that long since I was in college, and I can fully appreciate the hilarity of seeing one of your friends make one of those really, really bad calls on a night out.

We’ve all made decisions that we wouldn’t want to follow us around. Life is like that – mistakes are made.

I was in college, however, before the internet got so intrusive. Bebo was in its infancy, our paper was only ‘kind of’ online, and we would never have printed photographs like that. People simply weren’t used to sharing every detail of life.

But social media is so public that putting a photo of you doing something you shouldn’t be doing on Facebook is practically the same as printing it out and handing it to prospective employers along with your CV.

I am an avid social media user – I use Facebook and LinkedIn and I tweet at a rate of knots. And while I might put up what I’m having for dinner to chat to foodie friends about recipes, or ask for suggestions for names for a new pet, there is always, always a line. I wouldn’t put up anything I wouldn’t want my mother, or my employer, to see.

I have googled everyone I’ve ever interviewed for a job. One of our staff has the same name as a serial killer, which was a slight cause for concern until I read that the killer is now in prison. Definitely not the same person, then.

I attended a media conference in Dublin this week at which US journalist Evan Ratliff spoke about an experiment he had done in this area. He was tasked with setting up a new identity and ‘getting lost’ (the inspiration was a story of someone who faked their own death). Despite dumping his phone, his bank accounts, his car, refraining from contact with friends and family and staying almost completely ‘off the grid’, he was tracked down in three weeks by members of the public using social media like Facebook.

Osama bin Laden‘s compound in Abbottabad drew attention from US forces precisely because he was doing something similar – his villa had no internet connection or phone line, and that is too unusual not to attract attention.

Social media is an unbelievable tool for many things and the world has changed utterly since it came into being. With privacy the subject of so much litigation here and in the UK, perhaps it’s time some people remembered that some things just aren’t for public consumption.

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