Social media is everywhere. Most people who are old enough to have accounts and who have access have a profile with at least one of the well-known sites. Those sites include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Foursquare. While on the surface these sites seem like fun ways to connect with and make new friends, using these sites can also put the user at risk. This paper will look at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and compare the kinds of risks associated with each.
Facebook is arguably one of the most famous of the social networking websites. However, “its popularity can also be a downside” (Zickuhr 33). While it’s true that “social media websites like Facebook vow to change society to create more openness, transparency, and connectivity across the globe” (McPeak 889), people who use these sites also believe they should have some privacy as well. But they don’t realize that the responsibility for establishing and maintaining their privacy is their responsibility. As a result, people aren’t always careful about what they post on their Facebook walls. In fact, they can be very careless. This is unfortunate, as the nature of Facebook (and other social media sites) allow users to “continually investigate digital traces left by the people they are connected to through social media” (Marwick 378). This means, if a user posts that they’re going out of town for the weekend, people on their list will know that and could take advantage of the situation to rob the user’s house. This also allows stalkers – usually called cyberstalkers when they stalk people online – to discover information about their “targets” that the stalkers can use to terrorize or harass the targets. While users often talk about “Facebook stalking” people, this behavior is not concerned bad necessarily and usually reflects “social surveillance” type behaviors (Marwick). However, cyberstalkers are engaged in real stalking behavior which is bad and can lead to bad things for the target, such as “harassing or bullying behavior” (Mainiero and Jones 195). Careless use of Facebook, especially since people can see pictures, post on people’s walls, and see people’s gender and relationship information, can also lead to sexual harassment (Mainiero and Jones 190).
Like Facebook, Twitter can also make people careless. People post all kinds of things on Twitter, like they do on Facebook, including their plans and statuses. Using Twitter, like Facebook, offers users the opportunity to conduct social surveillance (Marwick). People can also find themselves the targets of cyberstalkers on Twitter, just like on Facebook. People can also find themselves the targets of sexual harassment and bullying (Mainiero and Jones 195). One user of Twitter describes it as being “mostly for just saying what you are thinking” (Zickuhr 34). However, sharing one’s thoughts can expose a user to ridicule, bullying, attacks, and harassment. Carelessness can cause problems on Twitter, just like it can on Facebook. Some users think Twitter is “safer” because pictures aren’t a big part of it, but that’s not necessarily true. What a user says on Twitter can invite as many problems as a picture a user posts Facebook. However, since Twitter profiles don’t appear as comprehensive as Facebook profiles, less information is shared, making it more difficult for stalkers to find as much personal information about their targets. Fewer pictures also may reduce the number of sexual harassment incidents.
Speaking of pictures, Instagram is a social networking site where users share and connect via pictures. Like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram also offers users the opportunity to engage in social surveillance (Marwick). Therefore, Instagram users can also find themselves on the receiving end of sexual harassment and bullying (Mainiero and Jones 195), as well as cyberstalking. The more visual nature of Instagram invites more sexual harassment, like Facebook. The less verbal nature of Instagram likely invites fewer attacks based on one’s thoughts, but pictures can cause as much controversy as words, so carelessly posted pictures can cause problems, like they can on Facebook. Carelessness in general can cause problems on Instagram, just like with Facebook and Twitter. Like Twitter, Instagram profiles seem to contain less personal information than Facebook profiles, so cyberstalkers may not find as much information as they would like. However, tagging photos on Instagram with people’s names or locations can provide missing bits of information for cyberstalkers, just like on Facebook.
While these three social media/networking sites may offer different kinds of experiences for their users, the risks of using these sites don’t really differ much. The degree of risk is what is different about them. Twitter and Instagram offer more limited services than Facebook but offer less personal information and therefore less information for cyberstalkers to use. Facebook offers more information, making it more likely to be exploited by cyberstalkers. Instagram is a more visual service, meaning sexual harassment may be more likely. Twitter is a more verbal service, meaning that bullying may be more likely.
The big trick with all of these is remembering that as a user, one is responsible for maintaining one’s privacy and security online. Cybercrime – which includes many of the activities described here, such as online sexual harassment, cyberbullying, and cyberstalking – is on the rise (Thaw 909). Accounts which are not secure are vulnerable to hacking which can result in criminal charges, even if the actual owner of the account is innocent (Thaw). It is important for users of social media websites to be careful in their use in order to avoid the risks described in this paper. Being mindful about what one posts can reduce risk.
- Mainiero, Lisa A., and Kevin J. Jones. “Sexual Harassment Versus Workplace Romance: Social Media Spillover And Textual Harassment In The Workplace.” Academy Of Management Perspectives 27.3 (2013): 187-203. Business Source Complete. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
- Marwick, Alice E. “The Public Domain: Social Surveillance In Everyday Life.” Surveillance & Society 9.4 (2012): 378-393. SocINDEX with Full Text. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
- McPeak, Agnieszka A. “The Facebook Digital Footprint: Paving Fair And Consistent Pathways To Civil Discovery Of Social Media Data.” Wake Forest Law Review 48.4 (2013): 887-948. Business Source Complete. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
- Thaw, David. “Criminalizing Hacking, Not Dating: Reconstructing The Cfaa Intent Requirement.” Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology 103.3 (2013): 907-948. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
- Zickuhr, Kathryn. “Teens And Tech: What The Research Says.” Young Adult Library Services 2 (2014): 33. Academic OneFile. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.