On 12th October 2006, at the tender age of 17, I uploaded my first Facebook photo. I was still at school, learning to drive and trying to figure out what on earth I wanted to do at University.
Back then, I had a blurry concept of protecting my online identity. At the time, Bebo was the social network of choice for young Scots, and the potential dangers of posting too much information online were frequently discussed. What wasn’t mentioned, however, were the personal reputation implications of effectively time-lining your entire life online.
Recently there has been a trend for stories discussing the pitfalls of social media when applying for a job, and consequently this is not an issue that will be discussed here. Instead, I would like to highlight a different problem that is facing the new ‘social’ generation.
While I had to rely on the online discretion of my younger self, some children now have Facebook accounts before they are born, an online catalogue of their lives – from bump to baby bouncer, from first steps all the way through to their first drink. In this situation, at what age does the handover occur? When should a parent pass on stewardship of a child’s online identity?
This wealth of personal information now available online, much of which came into existence outside an individual’s control, has the potential to become a reputation manager’s worst nightmare. The practice of media payments for social media photos is already well established, but access to an under-fire CEO’s life history, or a snapshot of a celebrity’s first moments could gradually become ever more available, through something as innocent as parental pride.
Should parents refrain from sharing pictures of their child on Twitter, just on the off-chance that their screaming two-year-old is a future pop star or their chubby toddler is the next prime minister?
Indeed, if the online profiling of entire lives continues, it could be argued that once an individual steps into the public eye their first step should be to ‘unfriend’ a whole swathe of people, solely to prevent potential leakages of personal data.
Would reputation managers then have to retrace the online steps of every friend, relative and acquaintance just to ensure nothing too embarrassing makes it into the public domain? The photos of M16 Chief Sir John Sawers’ holiday that appeared in the national media two years ago serve as a reminder that it is not only baby pictures that could define a catastrophic and unintentional family over share.
Despite these concerns, it would be a fallacy to suggest that the systematic online alienation of family and friends is an effective antidote to privacy concerns. However, the merits of an unbroken link to every detail of an individual’s past should perhaps be challenged. Ultimately, this may well be the last generation lucky enough to have singular control over their online lives – so here’s to the responsibility of my 17 year old self.