“If you want your private information to stay just that, the best thing to do is to commit to ‘Facebook hygiene’; washing your hands of those past likes on social media that no longer reflect you. Be careful but maybe most importantly, be anonymous.”
Most of us use social media every day to varying extents and purposes. Whether to chat online with friends, share special events or update the world with your thoughts and feelings, we don’t necessarily feel big brother is watching. Unfortunately, he is.
Research has shown that predictions about an individual’s mental health can be made using data collected regarding social media use. Both Cambridge and Stanford University have carried out studies in which Facebook ‘likes’ can be used to assess personality traits such as openness and conscientiousness. Such findings show that the amount of information we share online is scarily high if it’s true that factors used to incriminate or condemn someone such as substance abuse or political attitudes, can be determined by a computer program.
Further research done by the World Well-being Project (WWP) linked Twitter and heart disease- showing certain ‘tweets’ were an indication of stress and high heart disease mortality, perhaps more accurately than traditional health factors.
It is a wonder that, as interesting as these findings may be, how ethical are they? Social media is a space where people feel free to express themselves positively. It may fill users with doubt and mistrust were they to realise such expressions are used as research to stereotype and categorize them as individuals. Personal information such as sexual orientation, religion and intelligence that users may choose not to share can be predicted via that which they do. There are laws which restrict the misuse of information in certain circumstances but ultimately, if it’s publicly accessible, companies can use it however they please.
Alternatively, the WWP state such statistics could be used to our advantage, influencing organisations and governments when choosing policies, keeping in mind our best interests. However, this remains to be seen.
If you want your private information to stay just that, the best thing to do is to commit to ‘facebook hygiene’; washing your hands of those past likes that no longer reflect you. Be careful but maybe most importantly, be anonymous.