One day last year, I woke up with a novel sense of loss and a squirmy anxiety that drove me to turn on my laptop hurriedly. The night before, I had posted a reflection cum appreciation message on Facebook to thank a group of friends whom I had been working with closely for over 2 months to pull off a major project.
Having seen my friends toil so hard and sacrifice much of their personal time for this project, I felt deeply compelled to express my sincere gratitude to them. Hence, I wrote a post filled with personal messages to each and every one of them, as well as a reflection on my personal journey of growth over the project. Each message was infused with my thoughts and feelings toward my friend, some even recounting memories I’ve had with them. Upon posting the messages, I felt an inevitable sense of loss, as though something was being wrenched from me and put online to feed public eyes. I had portrayed too honestly my growth journey and the depth of my relationships that I was left terribly exposed.
This caused me to ponder over the intentions behind my action, and the consequences that followed. Like other social media users, I chose to publish my story online because of it’s massive outreach. My post was going to feature on the newsfeed of over 300 Facebook friends, and this I felt, was the best way to give a shout-out to my friends and share my story of growth with others. Yet, with immense power comes great danger. While I intended my post to circulate mainly within my circle of 300 Facebook friends, I had in fact no control over access to it. With every ‘Like’ and ‘Comment’, my post was going to circulate more virulently around my friends, and if they shared it with 300 other friends (most have more), it could reach nearly 100 000 people, many of whom I would not know.
Therein lies a fundamental conflict between our inherent desire to reach out to others and the need for our privacy to be protected. We want to make our feelings and thoughts known in search of resonance and to maintain our relationships, yet must take caution not to reveal too much about ourselves. This is especially so because of how easy it is to mine for personal information online. Given the prevalent culture of accepting friend requests without first confirming the identity of the user, one could carelessly take in an impersonator or stalker. According to the Pew Research Center, 33% of teen Facebook users are friends with people they have never met in person, people who have access to their profile information, photos, etc. and could do harm with these information.
Hence, how do we draw the line between sharing and exposing ourselves?
Navigating the online world is certainly not easy and I am still learning how to answer this social dilemma. But my experience has taught me one thing for sure: While we can share our thoughts and feelings with our friends, we should never create online personas so lifelike that they accurately define who we are. Some things are best told in person.
1. Teens, Social Media, and Privacy. (2013, May 21) Retrieved from Pew Research Center.