When we’re online, “We’re living in a fishbowl.” says Richard Guerry, founder of the nonprofit Institute for Responsible Online Cell-phone Communication (IROC2.org). “We may frost the glass to limit transparency, but absolute privacy will never happen in a digital world.”
No matter what claims are made for an app or platform, “Social-media privacy is impossible and always will be,” Guerry told students at TMI – The Episcopal School of Texas on Aug. 31 in All Saints Chapel. “Every time technology moves forward, it makes it easier for us to share and easier for information to get out. Even the CEOs of Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter have been hacked.”
Guerry, a former tech marketing executive, told students in sixth through 12th grade to assume that “Digital activity is public and permanent.” Likening cell phones to cars, he said, “When you use a powerful tool, risks go up.” Just as driver’s training helps lessen the risks of driving, the nationally recognized speaker outlined some rules of the online road to help keep young Internet users safer:
Social-media privacy is completely impossible and always will be. Even if your profile is “private,” someone you’ve allowed to see your information can share it. Even if your pictures or posts are supposed to disappear in 10 seconds, that gives someone plenty of time for a screen grab – and by the time you get an alert, it’s too late.
Don’t write anything online that you wouldn’t want to appear on the front page of a newspaper. Once you put something online, you will never be able to get it back. Increasingly, colleges and employers are checking applicants’ social media. Out of context, almost anything can look immature, irresponsible or even cruel.
Never post an update that says you’re not home or that you’re hosting a party. Even if your profile is “private,” you never know how far that information will spread…and who will take advantage of it.
Pure anonymity is not possible. Whenever you’re told you’ll be anonymous online, refuse to believe it. Read the fine print in privacy policies: Threats and other bad online behavior will be reported to the police.
When in doubt, don’t do it. Once you put digital information – words or pictures – on a hard drive, it is difficult to erase it completely. Assume anything you put online will exist somewhere forever.
What we do online “is part of our legacy,” Guerry said. “We can use it to build ourselves up or tear ourselves down.”