College students might be known for their technological savvy—seamlessly integrating email, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat…
Social media can be a great way to share information and to stay informed about what’s going on in the lives of your friends and family. But there’s a dark side, too.
Here are seven things you must know about social media, courtesy of technology communication expert David Gunkel, a professor of communication at NIU, and relationship expert Suzanne Degges-White, chair of the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education.
1) When the service is free, you become the commodity
Gunkel says social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram promote themselves as free services but do have a cost. “You pay for the service with your (personal) data,” he says. “Facebook, Twitter and the other social media platforms are not charities or non-profits interested in you connecting with your high school buddies. They are multinational corporations, and they make their money by sucking up and exploiting data—your data.”
2) Don’t talk to strangers
You’ve been raised with the reminder, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Degges-White says we need to add that mantra to our social media behaviors. “Don’t share personal information with people you haven’t yet met in person, even if they appear to be your own age,” she says. And, similarly, “Don’t show up somewhere you’ve never been before to meet with someone you’ve never met before.”
Both Gunkel and Degges-White stress that you should always carefully think through what you’re posting. “If you ‘tell off’ someone on Twitter, the entire world can read what you had to say and often without the benefit of context,” Gunkel says. Adds Degges-White, “There’s a saying that a picture’s worth a thousand words. If that’s a picture of you without your clothing, on the World Wide Web, that photo might end up costing you career opportunities down the road as well as end relationships in the present. You can never take back a digital image that’s been shared.”
4) The weak link in your data privacy is you
The most serious threat to your privacy is not Big Brother governments or the multitude of corporate “little brothers.” “The big threat is you,” Gunkel says. “We voluntarily give away private data without thinking. We tell Facebook where we are and what we are doing. We tell Twitter how we feel, what we are interested in and who we associate with. We basically do the job of self-surveillance for these data collection agencies, and this information will be bundled and shared beyond our control.”
Degges-White says to avoid posting your personal drama for others to see. “Whether it’s loneliness, heartbreak or homesickness, it might not be just your besties who swoop in with messages of support,” she says. “You’re potentially inviting strangers into your virtual world. They may act like they care about you, but actually be imposters who want to do you harm.”
6) Don’t spend too much time on social media
Research shows that the more time you spend on social networking sites, the more likely you are to feel symptoms of depression, Degges-White says. “Technology is an ironically isolating method of staying connected to others,” she adds. “And, if you spend all of your free time being ‘broad banded’ to friends back home, you’ll miss out on the college experience that you showed up on campus to enjoy.”
7) When in doubt, read the Terms of Service
When you sign up for a social media account, the service provider requires that you agree to their Terms of Service. “None of us reads these documents. We scroll to the bottom of the page and click on ‘I Agree’ without thinking,” Gunkel says. “But you might be surprised by what you have agreed to. Everything that these organizations can and will do with you and your data is articulated here, and some of it is rather chilling. Know what you are agreeing to before you click in. Knowledge is power.”
Media Contact: Tom Parisi
Northern Illinois University is a student-centered, nationally recognized public research university, with expertise that benefits its region and spans the globe in a wide variety of fields, including the sciences, humanities, arts, business, engineering, education, health and law. Through its main campus in DeKalb, Illinois, and education centers for students and working professionals in Chicago, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Oregon and Rockford, NIU offers more than 100 courses of study while serving a diverse and international student body.