Too Much Transparency

How teens are giving information away– and what that means

How far are you willing to go for internet validation? That’s a question every social media user has to answer when they make their accounts. When I chose to keep my Instagram private, it wasn’t an easy choice to make. Even though I was aware of the risks of putting my life story out for the world to see, the appeal of more likes and followers was undeniable. When I downloaded Gas, an app that allows you to assign superlatives to your classmates, I ignored the questions in my mind about how much information was too much to share. I was willing to put my judgment aside to get vague compliments from random people at my school. 

Sophomore Tessa Palermo is a stubborn skeptic of Gas for these very reasons. “I was really confused when I first heard about it because this random app has a list of people who go to your school,” she explained. “I feel like people should know who manufactures that app.” While the general consensus is that the app is safe, most people won’t research how an app uses their information before they download it and make an account. For example, the developers of Gas claim that location data is deleted from the servers once it has been used to connect users with their school. But they don’t go any further to explain how that information is erased.

We volunteer information about ourselves all the time on our social media accounts. Sometimes, we reveal more than we may intend. TikToker Kristen Sotakoun’s claim to fame is her ability to find the personal information of anyone who asks. Commenters challenge her sleuthing skills, asking her to see if she can find who and where they are. That goes to show that you don’t have to be a technological wizard to get someone’s personal information.

Susan Brockhaus is a Clayton parent of three who works for the FBI. She is also a co-founder of Clayton Parents for Delaying Social Media. As a parent, Brockhaus is aware of the impact that social media can have, with key concerns regarding how information can be used in the future. “Teenagers should consider that when they apply for college and jobs, their name and social media profiles will be searched online […] Do you want your high school comments or pictures of you at a party to be seen by an employer when you’re 23?” This concern is not unfounded. Teenagers have always been rebellious and irresponsible to an extent. That’s not a personal flaw, but a fact associated with youth. For a long time, someone’s teenage past could remain just that– their past. But in this day and age, anything online can be dredged up, even if it paints a picture that no longer reflects who you are. 

Brockhaus clarified that adults are not immune from the dangers of online oversharing. “But teens and young adults have a unique disadvantage because they can’t calculate the long-term consequences to their privacy, safety, future relationships, and college prospects of what they share online,” she stated. 

To drive home her point, Brockhaus referenced an interview with Sarah Michelle Gellar by Elyse Wanshel of Yahoo Finance. Gellar compared posting on social media to getting a tattoo of your favorite cartoon character when you’re five. “Because at that age, there’s nothing better than ‘Paw Patrol’,” Gellar said. “And now, you’re 10 and [13], and you still have these tattoos on your face, and it’s not even who you are anymore.”

Social media isn’t evil and it’s not the harbinger of the apocalypse. But it’s also not something to be taken lightly. Information shared on the internet is fair game for anyone to access, and it’s important for teenagers to realize what that really means.