A lot of words seem to have lost their potency in our modern world. Love, loyalty, and respect have all fallen by the wayside in our pursuit of instant gratification and likes on Facebook.
When we think about trust, most people immediately think about romantic relationships. Usually a toxic one where one of the parties is unfaithful. That’s a horrific situation to be in but it’s not what I want to talk about today.
I want to talk to you about the importance of virtual trust.
These days, it isn’t unusual to see a person’s entire life open to the internet. You don’t even have to know someone on a personal level (much less well) to be privy to the inner workings of their mind, job, daily commute, or what they had for dinner. They could be a business contact, a friend of a friend, or even someone who ended up connected to you over a prior post.
In my own case, a lot of people on my friends list found me through my writing. By simply accessing my Facebook app on my phone, I could inadvertently learn personal details about their career, health, or political leanings by accidentally seeing my newsfeed for ten seconds.
It’s mind-boggling to me.
I wouldn’t recognize some of my connections if we were face to face on the street but I’m invited into the details of their cheating scandals, employment status, child custody cases, addiction struggles, or loss of a loved one.
I’ve seen feuds play out in real time by people who were once friends where other veritable strangers take sides, weigh in, and pronounce guilt or innocence. Days or even weeks after what amounts to a virtual public brawl, either everyone acts as though it never happened or the grudges take on a “blood war” tone.
It can make things more than a little confusing if you do see some or all of those people in the real world after the fact. Online alliances are made and broken over the space of a single post.
When Virtual Trust is Too Freely Given
Back when social media exploded in the mid-2000s, I had children who were approaching their middle school (teen) years. I limited their access but (naturally) they found ways to get online at school or the homes of friends because determined teenagers are practically unstoppable.
I finally gave in and started my own social media accounts and allowed my kids to do so as well as long as they added me so I could monitor them.
Needless to say, it was literally within days of being online in such a capacity that I realized how effective the entire thing was for predators and voyeurs.
In the past decade (until my kids reached adulthood), I’ve had to stop them from publishing our home address, home phone number (back when that was a thing), their cell phone numbers (the moment they had them), and the school they attended. I also stopped them from “checking in” when they went to the movies, a restaurant, or their jobs.
The moment they were online, they extended virtual trust to every person able to view their profile. In the beginning, they accepted every friend request because, “More friends equals more popular and yay!” They didn’t restrict their posts and opened every message. Some of them left permanent scars, I’m sure.Think about the words and photos you post or share carefully because the internet never forgets. Click To Tweet
As terrified as I was for my own children, I was far more terrified for their friends.
Some of them had parents who didn’t object to racy pics of their fourteen-year-old on the internet, didn’t stop their puberty-age kids from vitriolic rants about fellow students or teachers, and seemed to have no idea (or no problem) what racist, misogynist, or otherwise (literally) dangerous views their son or daughter held.
Fast forward to 2012 when I began my own deliberate social media outreach. People who followed me in the beginning know I was more open back then. I shared my personal experiences to explain my writing or answer (often deep or emotional) comments from my readers.
I extended what I believed was the well thought out virtual trust of a grown woman. I concealed the identities of my teenagers when I spoke of them, protected my personal contact information, and felt pretty smug about how clever I was about guarding my real world privacy.
Being past my “prime” both sexually and socially, without interest in dating, hooking up, or doing anything that took me away from my laptop, I assumed I was insulated from the ridiculousness my daughter and her friends were subjected to.
That assumption was incorrect.
Within one year, I realized I’d made a grave mistake by sharing anything about my personal life on a public forum. I withdrew my virtual trust, locked down access to any area of my life that didn’t pertain to my business, and put up several layers of protection.
Over the past year, approximately 70% of my inappropriate messages from strange men (and a couple of women) have stopped. I have what I call the pirate response when it comes to my social media inbox. Archive Without Reading (AWR). I know some of that is due to Facebook creating stricter messaging rules and the fact that I have hyper filtering in place.
The majority of it is due to not publishing personal information about my life. I limit the number of photos (selfies) I post. I have a private group of my closest readers where I share more details but they represent less than 10% of the people on my friends list.
A few months ago, plagued by writer curiosity, I found myself drawn to a post at the top of my newsfeed. A man I don’t remember accepting as a friend (I used to accept them all without filtering) wrote about his relapse into substance abuse. I was moved by his words.
In a moment that was out of character for me, I opened it to read more (known as cyberstalking or creeping) and in the comments below the post, watched drama play out among friends of the man as well as the man’s wife – whom he’d allegedly beaten half to death after suspecting her of cheating.
I was stunned. By the end of that thread, I knew the man’s personal history, the wife’s familial connections, how many children they had together (as well as their ages), the hospital where the wife was admitted, the name of the man’s employer, and even whom the wife was accused of cheating with in the first place.
I don’t know these people and have no idea how we became connected on social media. They live thousands of miles from me. It’s unlikely our paths will ever cross. But I was privy to some of the most intimate and devastating moments of their personal lives.
Not only did I not deserve their virtual trust, I had no right to it. I felt wrong for reading it and at that moment, I realized we’ve become numb to privacy…our own and the privacy of others.
This goes beyond, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything.”
While I wholeheartedly agree with that nugget of wisdom, I’d like to remind you of another oldie but goodie that my “proper Southern lady” Aunt MeMe loved. “Don’t air your dirty laundry in the street.”
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the others are now the public street. No more scenes, no more tantrums, no more super personal information that will make it oh-so-easy for some serial killer to track you down. No more revenge porn or hateful pictures of people who don’t meet your idiotic standards of beauty in your gym.
Stop it. Seriously.
Be picky about who you grant virtual trust and even pickier about accepting someone else’s – stepping into a situation or a life you don’t belong in.Be picky about who you grant virtual trust and even pickier about accepting someone else’s. Click To Tweet
Think about the words and photos you post or share carefully because the internet never forgets. Before you click on yet another collection Top 10 Embarrassing Moments video, ask yourself…is there a single positive that comes from this outside of getting your chuckles at the (sometimes truly awful) misfortunes of others?
Then close the internet and do anything else.
Don’t perpetuate the internet ick factor. It takes time to get past the strange withdrawal symptoms but you’ll feel so much better when you make it. You haven’t got time to salaciously absorb all the details of someone else’s life.
Your own life is waiting.
Shayne McClendon is an author and positivity practitioner. Shayne believes love crosses all boundaries, social castes, races, genders, and belief systems. If you are lucky enough to find soul-deep love, you should fight for it. Life-certified, reader approved.