With the first leg of the Showdown 2.0 tour finished, I have been thinking a lot about cyber-bullying and the boundaries between our online worlds and our offline realities. The online world has become an extension of our offline world. Our constant use of social networks has allowed the Internet to develop into a space where family, friends, and colleagues connect to each other on a whole new level. Online users are able to share as much or as little about their lives on personal profile spaces, for example, one’s Facebook profile page or Twitter feed. Often the things that we post online not only depict our interests and comment our personal beliefs, but also describe the relationships that we keep. Even though one may not put much thought into posting a vacation with close friends to a resort in the Bahamas, it tells the audience that the person is financially able to go on vacation, likes to travel, is adventurous, and has similar friends. What we post and don’t post about ourselves and others allows online viewers to get a sense of our offline world.
Our online world reflects aspects of our offline world, but we can choose what we post online. On the other hand, we cannot choose what others post about us. A person may have gone on vacation with his or her friends, photos may have been taken, and one of those friends may choose to post the photos online. Often we don’t ask if others are comfortable if we post images, information, or comments about them on our social networks. What we do in our offline world is represented in our online communities, which makes it difficult if we want to remain anonymous.
A couple of months ago my father decided to get Facebook because a family member from overseas had suggested that he sign up so that he can see family pictures that she posted on her account. My father decided to sign up so that he could keep in touch with family and friends that live far away. I helped him through the process, which was difficult as he was frustrated by all of the information that he was asked to share. We finally got through it. He was all set up, no profile picture, no interests posted, and about only 6 friends. My father recently had his birthday and those 6 friends sent kind messages to his Facebook wall. He received emails and asked me how to sign onto his account so that he could read the messages. When we signed on he had about 20 ‘friend requests’ from people he knew. My father was completely overwhelmed. I explained to him that he must reply, otherwise it is like not returning a phone call, or not answering the door when a friend knows you’re home. Feeling very overwhelmed, he explained, “I just wanted to see those pictures! This is too much for me.” Facebook wasn’t for my father, and I unfortunately helped him delete his account.
When participating in online networks we must think about how our online information connects to the outside world. Just like what we wear, how we behave, and what we say informs others about who we are, what we post also allows others to understand how we depict ourselves, our interests, and our beliefs. This forced connection between our online and offline worlds is hard to bear for some, but may allow for those who choose to connect to social networks to be responsible for what they post online.