It is undeniable that social media has reshaped how we communicate with one another. It has allowed for friends living across the world from one another to remain in close touch, but there is little control as to who sees what, elevating even our most distant friends to social intimacy. Google Plus, a social network by the internet giant Google, aimed to solve this problem with the ideas of "circles" (different groups and levels to which you could individually share posts and messages), but the site was slow to catch on. As a result, sharing on social media is very much a binary: share with everyone, or do not share at all.
Given the popularity of social networking, the usual choice is to share. When confronted with the option to either broadcast oneself to the world or to remain private, it seems that broadcasting prevails.
The appeal of social media—beyond showing yourself off to your friends—is control. Social media provides the platform required for people to formulate carefully crafted images of themselves. Social media is heavily curated in a way that traditional social interaction is not. On social media, one is presented with a choice: to share or not to share. In traditional social situations, however, it is much more difficult to achieve this level of control over your public image. While you can control what you do and do not say, it is much more difficult to control your mannerisms, appearances, and receptions.
The control that social media provides, however, is paradoxical. It is the nature of the internet to not forget, so by curating and publishing yourself on social media, you simultaneously lose the ability to retract those very same statements. Once the posts are published, they cannot be forgotten. Even while some social media networks provide the ability to delete posts and even entire accounts, it is impossible to guarantee that the internet itself is truly amnesic. It is always a possibility that your post is, for example, screenshotted, still stored on Facebook's servers, or still fully visible on other user's feeds.
Also rooted in control is the problem of how audiences are perceived on social media. While Facebook can be convincing that your posts are only visible to friends, social media friends are often very different from "traditional" friends. As a result, social media can give the sense that you are communicating with your inner social circle when in fact you are communicating with a much larger and less understanding audience.
Often, what are thought of as private posts are in fact much more public. In many cases a simple Google search of someone's name reveals large amounts of information about their personal life, and this information primarily comes from social media. And while strengthening your privacy settings can in many cases help, it is by no means a perfect solution.
The privacy implications are dangerous. While social media offers a very controlled view into our personal lives, it is often much more revealing than we think. And given the misleading nature of social media "friendships," often we find ourselves speaking to the world as though we were speaking to close friends. And because of the internet's inability to forget, by exercising the ability to control our public image on social media, we diminish that very same control.
Privacy is, after all, simply a matter of control, and social media can prove to be a tempting platform to control your public image. By publishing yourself online, however, you cast your image out to a place that is not only visible to the world, but uncontrollable by you.