x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

All this being connected isn't necessarily a good thing

When you put any part of your identity on line, you may be asking for trouble, Social media has advantages, but there are serious risks, too.

Back in the 1990s, if you entered an online "chat room" the first thing you could see would be: "Hi, A/S/L?"

The letters stood for age, sex and location, so people would know whether they wanted to continue a conversation with you.

Of course, back then, you could lie your way into - or out of - anything. There were no profile photos or friends in common or colleagues who recommended you; back then it was just the dawn of the internet; lying was even easier than it is now.

If you lived in the UAE, you probably used the sites ICQ, ArabChat or MSN Chat; those were the most popular ones. They opened the doors for us to become "vulnerable" because you really couldn't do a background check on anyone if they gave you false information.

In my opinion, that's when social media truly began but it was limited to desktop computers. Today, social media is at our fingertips via mobile devices, and the internet has become a tool for many to attack women or young people who become vulnerable after putting "too much" information about themselves online.

So how much information about yourself can you put out there before you acquire a stalker or even someone who threatens your life?

Today, almost every website offers some sort of application that aims to connect you with others, through forums, comment boxes, links and the like. Companies use all this to promote their businesses and services, human resources people use it to look up candidates, individuals use it to connect - or sometimes to stalk people.

When Facebook started picking up, not everyone was on it, especially not 10-year-olds. As fresh graduates and new adults, my friends and I felt special; I for one thought this was an excellent way to keep in touch with cousins abroad and college friends I hadn't seen in a while. Little did I know, until I saw The Social Network, that Facebook had been created so people wanting to date could know who is single and who isn't.

That's just one example of a social networking site. Since I work in the communications industry, I need to keep up to date with what sites can work best for our public relations team. From a work perspective it's been smooth sailing - but from a personal stance, I find that some sites, or rather people who use the sites, have become a nuisance.

Take LinkedIn, for example. The site clearly states "grow your professional network". So why is it that each week, I get requests on this "professional networking" site from people saying they think I am beautiful and let's get to know each other better?

Is the site not doing a good job of filtering such people? Or don't they explain what exactly their site is for? Will we never rid ourselves of people who choose to annoy others?

What about people who deliberately ask to add you when you have friends in common, only to wait to catch you, posting something that could be turned against you, such as a picture from a party or a comment you made out of frustration?

Where does an individual draw the line on whom to add or accept as a friend? How much privacy are you willing to forgo to put your name, picture and feelings online?

I'm sorry to say there are many people out there who are using social networking sites to blackmail people with their pictures, creating fake profiles, or even cropping a person's head and attaching it to a picture of someone else's body to be part of a fake profile.

They say anyone with a phone is a journalist or even a photographer nowadays, but I say anyone with any device can also be a small-time criminal if their motives are evil.

Protecting who you are and what you stand for is your right. My advice is assess what you think is relevant because no matter how little of yourself you put out into the world via the web, someone is likely to try to abuse that information for their own benefit.

 

Aida Al Busaidy is a social affairs columnist and former co-host of a Dubai television show

On Twitter: @AidaAlB