The Dangers of Social Media


Ever felt like your every move is being watched?

Unless you’re wanted by the police, then probably not, although if you knew how easy it was to do then maybe you’d be more concerned about it…

The proliferation of social media – both the platforms we use and the frequency with which we use them – is quickly resulting in people we barely know being able to find out huge amounts of information about us.  We’ve all been warned about identity theft and putting our personal details online ad nauseum, and due to cases such as the ‘twitter joke trial’ we’re probably more wary of the content we post, but what about other, seemingly more innocent information?

For instance, it might seem harmless enough to post a picture on Facebook, but think about what that picture might tell the person looking at it.

Where are you – is your location tagged in any way?

When was it taken – are you telling the world that you’re on a luxury holiday right now and that your mansion is probably empty?

What are you doing – is it telling the world something about yourself you’d rather they didn’t know?

Written comments can also give away more than we want them to.  A lot of people – myself included – post about their frustrations with public transport, which in itself might sound pretty innocuous.  But, for arguments sake, let’s say somebody does want to find out more about you.  They might note the various times you post those comments and whether there’s a pattern there, which would give information on what time you leave the house and return home.  And if you often mention a particular train station or bus stop this could even give information about the area in which you live or work.

One of the most potentially harmful ‘improvements’ that has been introduced to social media is that of location services.  We can tell the world exactly where we are at any given time.

Stop and think about that for a second.

We post up to date, accurate and almost real-time information about where we are and what we’re doing.

In no other context would we ever do this, and in no other context would this information be so freely available and open to abuse.

This might all sound paranoid or far-fetched, but a very real picture of our lives and daily habits can be built up in a fairly short space of time – why else would advertisers pay huge sums of money to find out this information?

And think about passwords.  They are often hastily requested at the point of signing up for something.  They have to be memorable and specific to us, and what is likely to meet this criteria?  The names of the things and people most important to us.  And how could someone ascertain what/who those things are?  By looking at what/who we mention the majority of the time.

A lot of passwords seemingly boost security now by asking for both words and numbers.  Ok, so now that you’ve mentioned your spouse a hundred times, I’ll just try using their name and their date of birth (which they have helpfully provided on their information page) when trying to access your account.  It’ll take three minutes instead of two, so not much of a security boost.

Not that I necessarily practice what I preach here – as an actor and comedian, I’ve got online resumes posted all over the place, which is probably even worse.  Not only might people be able to find out personal information about me, but they can also quite easily discover what I look like, how tall I am, what I weigh.

Taken to it’s extreme – as I admittedly do in my crime novel The Artist – this gives a kidnapper everything they’d need to know to both find and subdue someone.

A scary thought and, given the amount of people using social media and the statistical probability that some of those people may not have the most innocent of intentions, probably not as extreme as it might at first appear.

Now I’m not suggesting that we all stop using social media – far from it, I’m starting to rely more on Twitter to tell me what’s going on in the world than the actual news.  But at the same time I don’t think it’d be a bad thing if we were all more mindful about what information we’re putting out into the world.  One piece of information might be harmless, but the aggregate effect of all those little pieces might have some unpleasant side-effects.

Oh, and before you ask, yes, I do appreciate the irony of me writing about putting too much information online, and then putting it online…