Resisting the Social Network (is that you in that photo?)

It was through my then fourteen year old that I first became aware of online social networks and blogs like Live Journal and MySpace, where it seemed kids were regurgitating the minutiae of their lives ad nauseum and flaunting their bootie for the world to see. At first I thought it was just silly, juvenile narcissism, its only usefulness to me as a tool to check up on where my own children were at.  But the deeper I looked into it, the more uncomfortable I became.

The lack of discretion, control and general awareness of what these kids were putting out there seemed unbelievably foolish, and sometimes even dangerous.  Half-dressed teenage MTV wannabes posting pictures of their sexiest faces, raciest outfits and raunchy innuendos – both my own daughter and step-daughter included in this – went from the ridiculous to the disturbing. There also seemed to also be a lot of nastiness between people going on – backstabbing comments, mockery, belittling, all in public.

When Facebook came along, my kids told me it was just for college students to connect, that it was much cleaner and mature than what was happening on MySpace, and that was where they would now be communing.  I was relieved. I was told No Parents Allowed. But slowly it seems everybody has jumped on the FB boat.  I resisted for a long time, until the desire to be connected to what was going on with my kids from afar found me finally caving in and joining the masses, albeit with privacy restrictions and blocks in place.

It’s been a strange road on the social network.  The positives are those everyone raves about, like finding a few long-lost childhood friends who I had wondered about for years.  That, and making a number of wonderful new friends though different mutual interests; people who I have actually met in person and since shared experiences with.   It has been a fascinating and connective adventure.  However, I cannot help but feel uncomfortable about the invasion of privacy. I mistrust the vehicle.  I also feel that those who are growing up with this technology have thrown caution to the wind and I fear some of this lack of discretion could will come back to bite them later on.  I am constantly lecturing my children to show sagacity; sharing stories about weirdos and stalkers and human resource departments doing a search on job applicants, about employees who have not used sound judgement in their posts or photos and the repercussions of such, all to drive home the point.  For example, if we were considering hiring an applicant and discover that he is flipping the bird to the world in his Facebook profile picture, there is a good chance there will be serious reservations about employing someone with that attitude and lack of maturity.

Having said all that, I have just made my own first (that I am consciously aware of) Discretionary FB Faux Pas.   Having recently returned from a trip abroad, one of the interesting things I did while there was to smoke apple shisha (apple flavored tobacco) from a hookah.  I am not a smoker – my last cigarette was well over twenty years ago – Disney but I wanted to try it and see what it was about.  I shared this experience with a group of other travellers in the middle of the afternoon, sitting in a sunny public cafe filled with people having tea and coffee.  A man came to each table with a little bucket and tongs and put the flavored tobacco and coal  into the bowl of the hookah.  He would occasionally come around to turn the little log of tobacco to make sure it was still burning  It was tasty, as tobacco goes – like apples! –  but my first smoke after decades made me a little light-headed.  It’s not a habit I will be picking up – you won’t be finding me frequenting any hookah lounges in the future.  It was a kick.  I urged my friend to take a picture for the archives.  Subsequently, it was posted with the rest of the travel pictures in my FB album as part of the experience, with a little caption beneath it explaining what it was, and forgotten.

Last week, during a lunch function at the agency I work for, I was sitting between two CEO’s when suddenly one of them turned to me and asked me if I was smoking hashish.  After I stopped choking on the pasta salad which I reactively inhaled, I asked him where he would have gotten that idea.  He told me he saw a picture of me smoking a water pipe on Facebook.  Well.

I explained what it was and I had to laugh.  I mean, aside from being a non-smoker, I am a fairly intelligent, educated  grandmother.  To imply that there would pictures of me smoking hashish on Facebook, and pictures I posted myself no less, was kind of funny.  And honestly, if I was inclined to imbibe in such a way, that would have been a personal matter. I certainly would not be so foolish as to put pictures like that out there for the world.  But apparently some people do post just about anything.  And you know, perception can sometimes count for more than reality.

As I said, I have many blocks and controls on my settings.  I know that sometimes they fail, and I know that sometimes there is a work around and you can end up connecting to other people’s information via their friends.  I have been very careful. I am not connected to anyone at work on FB, and that decision is deliberate.  Neither my supervisors nor the people I supervise can see anything about me, which is exactly the way I want it.  But as it ended up, the executive’s wife is a friend of mine.  Even though we have never had reason to communicate through this social network venue, at some point we must have “friended”.  I guess she was enjoying my travel photos. And she showed her husband.  My direct supervisor, who supposedly is blocked from my albums, also saw it and highly suggested I remove the Misleading Photo, which I did. Then I had to contact other friends on FB and ask them to please remove any Possibly Offending Pictures.  Because even if I am not “tagged” in the photo, it’s still out there.  It’s me.  And I am an administrator and a professional……of sorts. Misleading Photos can create all sorts of Perceptions.  And I think that stuff is out there forever, isn’t it?

Makes me think twice about blogging too.

I just shared this “perfect example” of public posting gone awry That Can Even Happen To Your Mother with my daughters, who I have had numerous clashes with about privacy and impressions on the social network.  Ironically, the younger one, who has historically shown the least discretion, responsed, “When I saw that picture, I had a feeling something like that might happen”.  It is probably a good thing that I am the one able to be the example, and that it was resolved without any serious repercussions.  Clearly no one  is immune. You just never know.

After all this, I just have to mention that the little bit of immature rebel still resonating deep inside me had one fleeting, amusing fantasy of a thought………… posting a profile picture of myself on FB, smoking that hookah – and flipping the bird.  🙂

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One Response to Resisting the Social Network (is that you in that photo?)

  1. Judy says:

    Well, on the one hand those are obviously un-worldly coworkers that made an assumption about hashish when you clearly stated it was tobacco. On the other hand, this is one of the major negative effects of online social networking. If you post something, you had better make sure you adequately set your security to separate your personal from your professional lives. I personally despise online social networking altogether. Because I left Facebook and therefore no longer read my “Friends” updates, many of my so-called “friends” simply stopped communicating with me. They post their status and assume all are reading. I rarely get a direct email anymore. I personally think it is the downfall of meaningful friendships.

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