With Charlie Brooker’s Emmie award winning miniseries Black Mirror returning imminently for a third series, many of the ideas raised in the previous series’ are starting to feel less fanciful and more on point.
The most notable is the idea of being able to have all your memories replayed in “The Entire History of You”. In this episode, the characters have had an implant installed behind their ear that records everything they see and hear. The implant lets them replay the memories or even cast them to a TV to share with those around them. Considering how much we willingly share to social networks already, and with Facebook’s live streaming becoming more prevalent, the idea of having our whole lives available to view, ‘like’ or share is not at all far fetched.
Think back to late September 2006, Facebook lifted the restrictions for new members allowing anyone over the age of 13 to join all those (myself included) that had already signed up with a University hosted email address. Ten years on, and we are starting to see the first “On this Day” notifications from a time before Instagram filters, trolls and potential employees delving into your online past. Privacy, and the ease of use of the settings that control it, have been a matter of continuing discussion, as is the type of content that is being shared. How often have you checked your settings or checked to see how exposed you are to wider world? How easy would it be for someone to guess your passwords or the answers to your memorable questions? That heart-felt, over-filtered picture of your late family pet on your publicly available Instagram profile probably answered one of them. I recently noticed that my GCSE results were published in our local newspaper, which has since made historical editions available online, meaning my home town, year of birth and subjects studied are now in the public domain.
An interesting trend, initiated due to new parents’ unwillingness to flood their friends news feeds with baby pictures, is to create a dedicated private profile for a child, which family and friends can request to follow if they wish. Whilst this is a solution to the original problem, I wonder what happens when the child becomes old enough to be aware of it and to take control of it? Would they instantly want to delete the very detailed, geo-tagged timeline of their early years?
Ultimately, and as with many cases, the best bet is to behave online the way that you would like yourself to be represented. In the 2013 episode “Be Right Back” Charlie Brooker explored the idea of being able to simulate an individual well enough that upon their death a loved one could continue to communicate with a virtual copy. This is done by providing the simulation with access to all targets online communications and social profiles. Armed with all that personal information it needs, the virtual copy can replicate mannerisms, turns of phrase and even re-call memories with such success you would believe that you are talking to the real thing. With potential employers doing their research before even meeting you, first impressions are being made through the things we have posted, and depending on what they see could be the difference between having the opportunity to show them the real you or not.
Series 3 of Black Mirror will be on Netflix from the 21st October, with six more episodes that are sure to raise more questions about our use and reliance on technology as well as the impact it may have on our future selves.
With all this in mind, it is not surprising that there are people wanting to escape the clutches of social media and leaving the sites all together.
For those who are wishing to join them and have their profiles removed from the internet, there are several options available. Dedicated websites such as AccountKiller will handle the process for you. However, they can only do so much. If you want to go further and get rid of every trace of your online footprint, then you would likely have to enlist the help of a specialist.
For the majority that are not wanting to go full cold turkey on social media, there are a few key things you can do to keep the truly personal private, yet still engage in all the positives that social media still has to offer.
Privacy Settings: this is the easiest and yet the most commonly overlooked aspect of social media. Some sites are simple, Instagram, for example, only has Private or Public settings, which doesn’t leave much scope for blurring the lines, but it works well. Facebook’s are more all-encompassing, allowing you to set up multiple groups within your profile, each with different policies for what can be seen, done or shared with your posts. Either way, it is worth taking the time to familiarise yourself with these settings and make sure they are set to what you expect them to be.
Multiple Profiles: for many, this has become a way of being able to have a publicly facing profile that shows the best of you, whilst keeping a more personal profile for your close friends, often under a pseudonym. This may appear to be a little prima donna, and would certainly require some additional thought to maintain the two as distinct profiles. If you decide to go down this route, you will need to check the terms of service for the site you are using, as some prohibit having multiple accounts.
Finally, we have the old classic, Google Yourself: it may sound a little narcissistic and should be done with some caution if you have larger than normal public profile. For most however, this is a great way to finding out what the public can see. You will want to sign out of all your accounts, especially your Google profile, as this impacts your search results. Try using information in your search terms that you may have already given someone, such as information that is on your CV. If you find anything that you were not expecting then don’t panic, as you can do something about it. The simple items will be the posts that you have control of and it will just be a case of finding the original posts and changing the privacy settings to limit their reach or simply deleting them all together. Things get a little more complicated when someone else has posted the content. The solutions for these items vary greatly, based on the type of content it is. If you have a legal right for the content not to be there then the site hosting it is more than likely under an obligation to remove it when notified to do so. All of the major social media web sites have dedicated tools to help you submit these types of claims.
Jonathan is an Online Risk Consultant from Bristol, UK