Social media is really a great tool, but it’s also filled with privacy pitfalls, both malicious and accidental. While there are scammers who use social media for criminal intent, you can cause a lot of your own privacy problems through your internet behaviors.
Two platforms in particular—Instagram and Snapchat—have recently grown to become widely popular social media sites. Both platforms specialize in sharing images and videos, but while their purposes are very similar, they were grown out of two very different purposes.
Instagram launched as a site to share and store pictures. It was eventually purchased by Facebook, and has a strong integration in that platform. The site is fun because it specializes in visual content, and allows the user to make minor editing adjustments and add filters to enhance the photo. Its target user base is between the ages of 18 and 35, which is a fairly broad range.
Snapchat, on the other hand, has a slightly more suspect purpose, allowing users to send “compromising” content to specific people without the fear of repercussions. Photos and videos sent on Snapchat disappear after watching them; unlike Instagram, if the recipient tries to save the photo through a screenshot, the sender is notified. It didn’t take long for Snapchat’s user base—who are overwhelmingly under the age of 25—to figure out that users could send racy photos to a specific person in a practice known as “sexting,” and then that photo would instantly be deleted.
Now, both platforms have a nearly identical feature called Stories. Snapchat launched Stories in 2013, and Instagram has only recently followed suit. The Stories feature allows users to create whole compilations of photos, which are then shared with everyone they are connected to by default. The images in Stories—both on Snapchat and Instagram—are visible for 24 hours, and then they disappear.
What could go wrong? Plenty.
One of the first mistakes social media users make is in believing that their perceived level of privacy is actually real. You might select “friends only” on your posts, but that doesn’t mean someone can’t cut and paste, screenshot, or use another means to nab a picture. One father even gathered evidence of bullying through Snapchat videos by literally recording his daughter’s phone with his own phone each time a message came through. There is no such thing as a photo that is truly unshareable, and your accounts are set to Public by default.
But it may actually be the users’ own behavior and reasons for sharing that cause them the most problems. Instagram’s 300 million users are accustomed to sharing more intentional content, and manipulating the image with filters before sharing in order to make it look nice. Snapchat’s 100 million daily users are sharing content on impulse, and have the option to add bizarre screen lenses that are goofy or silly. Instagram might be where you share a photo of a bride and groom’s clasped hands, while Snapchat is where you post a photo of your best friend after adding a rainbow vomiting out of her open mouth and alien eyeballs.
So the issue with Stories is this: our own user behaviors are going to affect our ability to protect our privacy and prevent online bullying. It will be up to users to remember how the platforms work, who can see their content, and how to safeguard their privacy—and their dignity—by self-regulating what they share.
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