Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is it OK to have one or two burner sites for social media? A hidden social media account. I am in high school now and hope to get into a good college in two or three years. So, my parents have been on my case to keep my social media posts squeaky clean. To me, it comes across like a branding campaign. Meanwhile, my friends and I have a couple of platforms where we are truly authentic with each other. Should I ‘fess up to my parents, delete info from these private sites or do something else? Jon, Brentwood
Dear Jon: This is a thoroughly modern problem. But it has intrinsically old roots. We are in personal conflict when our personal state-of-affairs contradicts core values and ethical traditions. It sounds like that hidden social media content would make your parents squirm.
There are good reasons for your parents to suggest that you keep a social media account that polishes your reputation . When you apply to colleges, or look for a job, it is almost a given that your online presence will be scanned for details. It’s better to have a social media feed about the honor societies you joined, the track medals you earned, and the quiet, reflective artwork you create…than a feed about the tats and speeding tickets you acquired over the same time frame.
But Not Alone
That said, perhaps you feel the need to exercise freedom of speech or indulge in secret interests? I couldn’t find the equivalent data for North America, but in Asian-Pacific countries, about 28% of users have an anonymous social profile or a profile without their real name, photo, or socially identifiable information (ie, Southeast Asia= 35%, India= 28%, Australia= 20%) Never trust poll data at face value, but the numbers do fortell that lots of people, like you, keep an anonymous virtual profile.
As a parent, I worry that a digital sleuth might connect your different profiles- perhaps through metadata like an IP address, your contacts, location data, or time of posting. Or worse, a careless friend might take a screenshot, or send a message, or tag you and that will link to your anonymous sites. Even if you use Snapchat, you will not be immune. Posts there are scheduled to disappear in a day but actually stay on their servers until all your recipients open them for up to thirty days.
As you get older, I hope that you, and others, will be able to connect both the online presence that your parents see with the anonymous one you share with friends. These different versions can merge and become a singular online presence. I don’t believe it’s healthy for anyone to post things that they are not accountable for or express things that violate an ethical code.
On the other hand, I realize that kids are path-breakers when it comes to digital media, and are already rewriting social media in ways that their parents, teachers, and elders cannot imagine. And, they are also quicker and more informed about how to manage digital keys, edit posts, and delete accounts.