Column: Take care using social media

Social media is great.

It’s a useful public relations tool for businesses and a good method for people to connect in their personal lives.

Social media is great.

It’s a useful public relations tool for businesses and governmental bodies, an excellent platform for news media to disseminate content, and a good method for people to connect in their personal lives.

When used properly, communication platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are invaluable. But the constant usage and proliferation of social networking has not only drastically altered how people communicate, it has proven to be harmful on occasion.

Bullying has always been present in the schoolyard. The difference between bullying today and the past is now it can follow you home.

Kids and teens can’t escape their tormentors if they continue to be harassed online. And unfortunately, social media provides the perfect platform for cyber-bullying.

Relentless taunts and hurtful messages can continue to be conveyed, regardless of whether a child is safely at home.

The Internet also offers a form of anonymity. Using it as a shield, a bully can cowardly hurl insults without physical confrontation, and possibly, with impunity.

Furthermore, there is the question of permanency. Photos that are posted due to poor judgment can be removed. But they can also be swiped off a website to be used in future, for the purposes of defamation, blackmail and harassment.

Social media, originally designed to share personal content, has also bled into the professional realm. Employers and recruiters can, privacy settings permitted, check up on employees or potential candidates.

Needless to say, there are more than a few people out there who have regretted posting status updates lampooning their boss or photos of “innocent” debauchery.

Young, working professionals now have to be cognizant of what sort of image they would like to present.

An example of how unfamiliar people are with their own social media profiles was Facebook’s recent scandal, where hundreds of thousands of users lamented the appearance of embarrassing, private messages on their timelines. In truth, Facebook was not sharing private messages at all. It was the users who didn’t recognize the bold and perhaps careless statements they made in the past.

Another evil of social media is its use for criminal purposes. Social media sites that facilitate immediate location check-in can put people at risk for home invasion. Burglars can easily prowl through social media to find out who’s home or not.

And while not as serious, social media has had an effect on interpersonal communication. People are rarely more than an arm’s length from their smartphones, which provide access – sometimes unlimited – to their favourite social networking sites.

Checking your phone at dinner was once considered rude, but these days it’s common to dine with someone who is intermittently tinkering on their phone.

Is this the way it should be? Eyes plastered on your phone rather than the people you’re “spending” time with?

Social media has successfully trained people to enjoy and become accustomed to sharing content. Facebook and Twitter have proven to be good arenas for thought, but when did people start to share the mundane details of their lives, or begin to enjoy viewing or listening to that content?

Ironically, social media has introduced a disconnect in relationships, spawning cohorts of young and old who scan through Facebook and Twitter accounts to surreptitiously “find out how people are doing.” Whatever happened to giving someone a phone call? Face-to-face interaction appears to have been put on the back burner.

Case in point, it’s more important than ever to be prudent when creating your online persona in a web-based world.

You never know who may be looking.

Sharron Ho is a reporter for the Sooke News Mirror.

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