In the Blog
Seven rights for social media users
Illustration: Erin McPhee
How did you come across this blog? If you’re like a lot of readers, you found your way here from a link on Twitter, Facebook or another social media outlet. It goes without saying that social media fuels many of our day to day interpersonal activities, and many of us spend a fair portion of our time checking in with our accounts. As we navigate cyberspace, though, it’s important to remember that we have the right to decide how we use social media.
You have the right to decide how, when and if you use social media.
There’s a fair amount of pressure out there to have numerous different accounts, both for work and personal use. Many job sites, for instance, insist that you need a publicly accessible LinkedIn account, complete with a photograph and your entire resume, in order to be employable. You’re encouraged to post photos of your life on Instagram, disclose your location with check-ins, and tag your friends.
What if you’re not comfortable with some, or all of that? What if you’ve decided you don’t want to use one app or another? It’s your life, your personal information and your photos and videos, after all. You, and you alone, should make the call as to whether you sign up or download that app, and how much personal information feels safe to share. Maybe you don’t want to be tagged in photos. Maybe you don’t want to disclose your school, workplace or hometown. It’s totally your choice. Not everyone is comfortable with sharing personal information to the same extent, and some people have serious safety concerns, such as being domestic violence survivors, which heavily influence how they use social media.
Along with this: you have the right to decide which name you use online, or if you prefer to remain anonymous. This goes against the status quo – more and more sites are pressuring participants to use their full legal names, and on some social networking sites, it’s actually against the terms of service to choose an alias. However, many people do not identify with the name that is printed on their birth certificate, and others, such as abuse and stalking survivors and those employed in certain fields, such as teaching, social work, public service and acting, have very compelling reasons to keep their real names off their accounts or to avoid being found.
You have the right to post without justifying yourself and your activities.
Last year, shortly after I became ill, a family friend saw a photo of me at a theme park on my birthday. She immediately went back to my relatives and started throwing about all sorts of accusations; namely, that I must not really be sick after all. I responded by promptly unfriending and blocking her. However, for quite some time afterward, whenever I posted a photo of myself having fun, I felt the need to qualify it by reminding people that I really was still sick. I even did this in a blog I wrote for Shameless, when I noted that even though me I’d had fun at the Dancing Man party, it had resulted in negative physical fallout for me.
I won’t do that any more. Those who have taken the time to actually talk to me have figured out my circumstances. Those who haven’t, and are silly enough to judge me without knowing all the facts, aren’t my concern. I’m well aware that some people will look at a picture on Facebook or meet me at an event where I’m heavily made up and exerting considerable effort to disguise myself as a healthy person, and decide they know all about me. There isn’t anything I can do about that. People will make assumptions regardless of what I say or don’t say. I have limited time and energy, and I’m not going to waste it explaining myself to judgmental people.
You have a right to use filters.
I’m not comfortable sharing every single post with every single person who has added me, and that’s absolutely and completely okay. When we’re offline, our comfort level changes depending on who we are interacting with in that moment. We might not want to mention something to our colleagues or classmates that we’re perfectly at ease discussing with our close friends, for instance. That’s the case online, too. Not every post is relevant to every person, either: if I’m posting to give local friends a heads up about a major street closure in my city, for instance (President Obama likes to visit us. A lot. Oh, the traffic.), those who live in other places don’t have any particular reason to care about it.
Luckily, Facebook and many other social media platforms have a huge bag of tricks so users can filter their posts as they wish. If someone looked at the left bar of my Facebook they’d see a weird variety of incomprehensible codes. There’s one for dance contacts; there’s another for people who live in my city; there’s a third for the “inner circle” that has known me for decades and has my implicit trust; there are several others. I also hide my friends list and posts that others make on my wall to ensure that nobody can poke around there.
You have a right to decide who you add, delete, or unfollow.
A while back I did some housekeeping on one of my social media accounts. I deleted most of the people who hadn’t been in touch for a while and didn’t seem to be interested in maintaining any sort of personal relationship. I got an angry message from one of them about it; another immediately sent a new friend request. I wasn’t sure why they cared one way or the other; it wasn’t as though we’d interacted in any way in quite some time. In another case, someone decided to argue and become antagonistic toward me on my page; I immediately removed both her comments and her access to my account.
There are many articles out there that debate the ethics of deleting someone from social media. It’s true that it’s a very deliberate act; you’re sending that person a clear message that you don’t want to communicate with them on that platform anymore. However, your social media is your online home. You have the right to decide who hangs out there, much in the same way you have the right to decide who you invite to your physical abode. You have the right to be treated with courtesy and respect in your home. If someone’s not abiding by that rule you have the right to tell them to leave your personal space, either temporarily or permanently.
You have a right to post about achievements.
I’ve actually seen articles where the authors complain about how annoying it is to see their friends’ posts about their travels, their achievements, and the great events that are happening in their lives. I don’t get this, personally. If someone’s jealous or upset because you’re doing well or you’ve posted a beautiful photo from your vacation, that’s their issue, not yours. The old adage is true: if they’re really your friends, they will celebrate your successes with you.
You have a right to post about sadness, anger, illness and challenges.
Western society has branded certain emotions – anger, sadness, grief, anguish – as being “negative.” We’re often admonished, either directly or indirectly, not to be a downer on social media. There’s also a misconception that if someone posts about their misfortune or challenges, they’re fishing for attention or pity. Who made those rules? Nobody’s life is sunshine and rainbows 24/7, and your social media doesn’t have to be, either. If you want to post about the obstacles or problems you’re facing, you have every right to do so.
You have a right to keep your social media accounts separate from work.
Most employers now search for their job applicants’ social media accounts. Some bosses demand to be added to their employees’ pages; others have gone so far as to demand account passwords. Thankfully, some regions are confirming that such demands are invasions of privacy, and legislation has been passed in Nova Scotia, Europe and numerous American states that prohibit employers from demanding access to social media accounts.
Nobody should ever feel guilty about refusing to add employers to their social media lists, or about placing them on restricted filters. They’re not necessarily your friends, and they shouldn’t need to be privy to your personal life.
Your social media accounts are there to serve you – not the other way around. It’s your choice as to how you want to use them.