With Facebook’s new Timeline feature, and continuous news stories of incriminating tweets from way back when, it seems that deleting your past may be harder than you think. Deleting your present, however, shouldn’t be so difficult – you just stop sharing, tweeting, and updating – right?
Well I’m not so sure. Take for example the tenant who just did a runner from a house my Dad is looking after. They had no qualms walking out of a house full of furniture, plates and even a wedding dress (yes, a wedding dress), but they just couldn’t bear to leave Facebook.
Our digital identities, created through sites such as Facebook and Twitter, have become too valuable to give up. And if we are to commit virtual suicide, it’s not just your digital self you give up, it's all of your friends’ digital personas too. Social media has become a web of connections and information that, for some, is simply impossible to leave behind.
While digital and real personas are obviously intertwined, they are surprisingly different, and this is what many people forget when using social media. A tweet or Facebook post is not the same as a postcard or a phone call – crucially it is public, it is searchable, and it can therefore be incriminating.
This situation is really a testament to the value of Facebook and other social media channels. As more and more information gets plugged into Facebook by its users, people feel as though they can’t erase it from their lives. Doing so would impinge on their reality, be it less contact with friends or seeing fewer family photos.
But there are pitfalls to over sharing. If too many people get burnt – either by allowing hackers to gain personal information, or by landlords finding out where defaulting tenants have ‘disappeared’ to – the bubble may burst, and people could stop trusting social media sites with their valuable information.
I’m under no illusion that people will struggle to wean themselves off social media, but I do hope that the perception of such sites changes, and people do become more aware of how much their digital persona reveals about reality. After all, if I can find out the location of an ex-tenant in hiding, hackers could likely find out much more.
It also begs the question – what is more important, your digital persona or your wedding dress?