Secrets, Secrets, Are No Fun...

Remember the days when secrets were those things you told only to your closest friends? Well, you can kiss those days good-bye. Facebook and Twitter are giving the term “too much information” a whole new meaning. 

In a recent article on KansasCity.com, reporter Scott Duke Harris reveals one man’s recent status update, which he dubs “a public service announcement of sorts.” The update read: “This goes out to any girl I’ve even been with. I got tested today for herpes and I came out positive.” Before social networking, the revelation of an STD diagnosis may have at least warranted a phone call, but now it seems this information can be spread (pun intended) by a shout out to 1,000 of your closest friends and relatives. However, this man is not the only one intent on sharing what most would call too much information over the internet.  In “Twitter ye not?”, reporter Jonathan Morgan expresses his shock at the need to be bombarded by constant updates on the state of the lives of others. Morgan says he joined Twitter as a way to help his professional life, but found his feed quickly infiltrated by continuous posts on the day’s activities. Morgan points out a growing concern that people are revealing too much of their lives through social networking sites, including references to suicidal thoughts and abortion processes. Perhaps it’s just me, but these are things I would choose to share with my therapist, not the ever-growing internet population.

In a recent article from the Associated Press, reporter Leanne Italie pointed out that oversharing on social networks is now used as evidence in divorce cases. She cited an impressive statistic from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, saying 81% of its members have used or faced evidence from social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, LinkedIn and dating sites like Match.com in their cases.  Although none of the lawyers would reveal the identity of their clients, they mentioned misdemeanors ranging from fictitious profiles created claiming married users seeking primary custody of children to be single and childless, to angry Facebook posts threatening one man’s court claim that he did not have anger management issues.  One mother, who denied in court that she smoked marijuana, proceeded to post pictures of herself partying and smoking pot on Facebook. 

It seems social network’s have created a new, faster, easier way to share secrets with those around you.  But just because it exists, does that mean it should be utilized?  In my opinion, when your status update becomes a therapeutic mechanism, you’ve gone too far.  This new era of internet communication has created an obsession with instant gratification, which in turn has changed our social habits, and not for the better.  What ever happened to arranging to meet someone for dinner to tell them you potentially gave them an incurable disease?  Even something as simple as calling a friend on the phone to discuss the day’s events has become prehistoric.  

What’s more, Facebook now boasts over 400 million active users, including everyone from your mom to your 10-year-old cousin. As my colleague Madeline pointed out in her post entitled “Facebook’s Privacy Trajectory,” there is no really no such thing as controlled privacy anymore. Because of this, regardless of privacy settings and friend lists, there’s really no way to know who’s reading what you write. If it were me, I’d think twice before I told over 400 million people worldwide that I had herpes.

As Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of Privacy Journal, points out in Harris’ article, Facebook has changed the nature of internet privacy. Social networking sites actually encourage users to disclose personal information without a thought for the consequences, which can range from embarrassment to job dismissals to fraud. While some companies argue that social networking sites should do more to protect users’ privacy, I believe this is the responsibility of the individual.  Many people say they value their privacy, but then immediately contradict this statement with their internet behavior. In my mind, it is the responsibility of the individual to monitor their own posts.  

Articles like this one make me miss the days when everyone had less than 100 Facebook friends, status updates didn’t even exist, and you could only access the site with a valid email address from an approved college or high school.  While I know these days will never return, I’ll never stop hoping.

-Contributed by Brittany Hughes. Follow her @brithughes14