Just after her honeymoon last March, Wadooah Wali took the de rigueur next step these days: She changed her status on the networking websites Facebook and MySpace from “in a relationship” to “married” and posted pictures of her partner — another woman.
The well-wishes from friends and family poured in, stoking Wali’s happiness. Then came a note that jolted her, noticeable for what it didn’t say. No congratulations. Just: “Nice pictures.”
It was from a professional contact Wali hardly knew — someone to whom she never would have sent something as personal as a wedding announcement, let alone pictures. Wali likes to keep her personal life separate from her professional acquaintances, wary that some might react negatively to her sexual orientation. But suddenly her social circles had collided.
Talk about awkward.
“I was worried that the repercussions of TMI — Too Much Information — was going to be a problem,” says Wali, 33, director of communications for a Los Angeles-based Internet company.
The episode was a reflection of how the walls that separate parts of a person’s life can be knocked down in the emerging world of online social networking. Everyone you know — high school and college classmates, business associates, someone you met in a nightclub — and even total strangers can become a “friend” on your personal Web page and gain access to all sorts of information and discussions about you.
Online networking sites — used by 86.6 million people in the USA last month, according to Nielsen Online — have long been the focus of concern about teenagers posting too much information about their lives. (This week, MySpace agreed to adopt new online rules to try to shield teen members from sexual predators.)
But as a growing number of adults are learning, giving too much information online isn’t just a problem for teenagers.
On MySpace, Facebook and other social networks, a user can join another member’s “friends” list simply by asking. Many people allow new friends without a second thought. Social networking sites vary in what kinds of privileges come with friendship, but for the most part, it opens virtual doors to all sorts of personal information.
A user can revoke friendships at any point, but many people have long lists of dozens of friends on their Web pages and don’t monitor their list of friends that closely.
In the offline world, we know better than to put people from different parts of our lives in one big room where they might share the wrong kinds of stories about us.
But online, “all the walls come down,” Wali says.
The article continues and discusses this subject in great detail.
As Privacy Maven has noted numerous times, “digital litter” — an even larger consequence of TMI, too much information, is a constant problem in social networking. We are still in the early days of a new social networking frontier and need to stay mindful of future implications. Information posted online is, essentially online forever, thanks, in part to Archive.org. If you’ve ever updated and revamped a Web site, you know that Archive.org likely has your early “drafts.”