Do we let social networking sites define ourselves, or visa versa?

Did you know there are about 1 billion active users on Facebook and there are around 500 million users on Twitter? Everyday millions of tweets, photos and statuses are sent from different people across the world, and each day these millions of pieces of information are seen by many different people. All of these pieces of information that we are posting are things that we want to define ourselves by. But have we now got to the point where we reveal too much information about ourselves on social networking sites, which then lead to our social identities being defined by what we post? Within our modern society where the internet has become one of the key places where we go to search for information, websites have been developed over the last ten years which allow us to post as much or as little information about ourselves as we choose. However, even though we choose the information that we post on the internet, do we think about the consequences?

I’m currently doing my dissertation about the role that social networking sites play in defining our social identities and some of the results that I found out turned out to be quite interesting. For instance, nearly every single girl who did my survey admitted to doing the classic ‘Facebook stalk’ and then nearly always changing their opinion on the person if they found some new information out. This made me think about what is an acceptable amount of information to post on the internet about ourselves and how I have also done the classic ‘Facebook stalk’ and also changed my opinion about someone, with the classic case being if someone is constantly moaning on their statuses of tweets, then I will always associate that person with being a whiner.  Should we post our whole lives on Facebook or Twitter and then allow other people to make their own decisions about us, or should we limit what we post in order to make ourselves look better and then let people make their decisions outside of the social networking scene?  When phrased like that, it doesn’t seem such a hard decision to make, but yet we still all fall into the trap of posting as much information as we can about ourselves because within our modern society this has become the norm. Sharing information is what social media is all about and why it was invented in the first place.

Recently there have been many documentaries about how information that has been posted by social networking users and has ended up causing people so many problems. A recent documentary on Channel 4 called ‘Don’t Blame Facebook’ looked into how tweets sent by people have landed them in trouble with the police, or even one person who posted nearly their entire life on MySpace came home after a night out to find a stranger in his bed who had managed to convince the guys housemates that they were friends because he knew so much about him. Scary huh? Imagine that happening to you! But this just proves how posting so much information on a social networking site can end up defining you as a person because I am sure that if the guy had limited the information he shared on MySpace, the randomer would not have wanted to jump into his bed and be ‘friends.’

Another recent documentary that has been filmed about users of social networking websites is ‘Catfish’ and is said to be the show which ‘pulls back the curtain on online profiles’ (ABC news). In other words, it is looking at how there are people who fall in love with someone over the internet without even meeting the person, but end up falling  for  the information that is on their profile. Therefore, people’s identities are being defined through what is posted on their profile, but how many times have you exaggerated or maybe even lied about something you’ve posted on your profile? By doing this, we are not only letting social networking sites define ourselves, we’re possibly changing our social identities through what we decide to post. This is not right! And this is not just the case when it comes to finding love. My hairdresser has admitted to making a decision about whether or not he was going to hire someone based on their Facebook profile. He had met the person once and was trying to choose between two candidates,  in the end he chose the person who he felt he would be able to get on better with by what was posted on their Facebook profile. Once again, another example of how social networking sites define our identities, and again, not having a positive outcome.

But do not fear! There are ways in which you can stop social networking sites defining who you are and it isn’t even that hard to do! For one, just think before you type! It is that simple. Just think about what you are typing and the possible consequences it might have on you and other people. Imagine if you saw what you were posting from another person’s perspective. Would it make you change your opinion on that person? I know we all like to think that we are above judging people by what they post, but you will always remember a person for something scandalous or controversial rather than for something boring that they may have posted. One other way to stop everyone from seeing everything you are posting is to change your privacy settings! If you only want your close friends to see something, then make sure you change the settings. Something that may be seen as an ‘in-joke’ by you and your friends may be misconstrued by others.

At the end of the day, do you want people to judge you by what you post on social networking sites? It’s a shame that even though we are in an era where sharing ones personal information is seen as the norm, it can still effect what so many people think about us. We should not have to be careful about what information we post just in case it ruins our reputation because it is misunderstood by someone, but unfortunately that is exactly where we are now at! One misunderstood joke on a social networking site could end up changing how people view you. So next time you post something on either Twitter or Facebook, think carefully about how it will shape a person’s perception of you, and then don’t let it!