Social Media: Where’s the Line Between Public and Private?

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For years I debated on how I should use Facebook.

Yes, many people use it differently. To express themselves, to keep in contact with existing and old friends, some with the clear intention to make new friends.

And social media is a powerful tool for networking, and reaching out to new contacts. I’d probably be more inclined to accept a friend request if we had a few mutual friends compared to one without any existing mutual contacts.

The notion of ‘friends of friends’ and seeing who are a mere 2 or 3 degrees away from you is exciting.

Isn’t it fun when you discover that your friend actually knows another friend through something completely unrelated?

And seeing that friend count rise is also another intoxicating feeling, the euphoria of seeing that many people know you online, and comparing it with other people, just like some form of popularity contest.

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That’s perhaps why Singaporean sisters Nicole and Celeste Chen have 16,000 Facebook friends. And that Straits Times article was written in 2007.

But Facebook is tricky. It comes with plenty of complications no matter what you post.

Nothing is private when you post it on the Internet, even if you add labels and tweak privacy settings. Once it’s out there, it’s like it’s been given to someone else and it’s difficult to get it back.

And indeed, plenty of trouble has brewed because of Facebook, whether it’s someone airing their grievances on social media, secrets being leaked or quarrels had over the publication of certain photos on social media platforms.

I’ve definitely had my fair share of Facebook issues, like clicking through friends’ profiles to see a place they went and going “Y U NO INVITE ME” (or, in other terms, BO JIO).

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And feeling envious of someone else’s life because I think it’s cooler/more fun/more interesting than my own.

But the life that you carve out on social media is merely a snapshot of your entire life. It disregards so much of the rest of your life, like the time you missed the bus and had to wait for an hour for the next one, or the time you were waiting for someone, bored out of your mind.

But others will see that snapshot of your social media life and take it at face value. They’ll see the fun moments of your life and imagine that that’s far more exciting than their own life.

There have been many studies conducted on the contentious issues that social media has bred, such as Facebook envy (which probably merits a post on its own).

To some people, it might just be a picture. To others, it might scream Look at me, I’m more interesting than you, I have more fun than you. Despite whether that was intentional of not.

This is one reason why, particularly for Facebook, I’ve struggled with aspects of social media. On one hand, the opportunities are amazingly endless. I’ve connected with people virtually in a way I’ve never been able to connect with in person, like one of my juniors in school whom I would otherwise never have met in person.

I’ve been offered jobs based on my online profile, I’ve become closer to people because of more contact online that slowly translates offline.

The power of networking has been emphasized constantly, and I’ve felt the online results of it myself. It definitely can be a positive thing for your personal or professional life, because you truly never know the doors that can be open until you do open them.

And social media can break down so many existing barriers like geography, language, and space-time. Connecting with someone on the other side of the globe is literally a click away now.

coffeeBut on the other hand, social media can bring out another side of people. The relative anonymity for one, is something that leads people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do in real life, like threats or bullying.

In the most extreme cases, social media has fuelled people to commit suicides, because of their inability to cope with virtual bullying. Social media has also made it easier for people to stalk someone, to know exactly where that person is or might be. These are acts that cast dark shadows on the social media platforms.

Personally, I prefer to add or accept people whom I feel a genuine connection to, whom I’ve worked with before or seen how they operate. If it was merely someone I met for a minute and had no conversations with, I might be less inclined, particularly because I don’t know what their intentions are.

For a long time, I wanted to only accept friends, family and extended family on Facebook. No one else.

And yet, when my social circle expanded personally and professionally, I found it difficult. Where do I draw the line when it comes to my boss? Someone I’ve worked with once but have no particular connection otherwise?

As a freelancer, I often come into contact with many different people but only for a short while, and sometimes its not enough to truly forge a genuine friendship.

But… and there’s always this question, will being Facebook friends with them help to forge a deeper connection, or will it have negative effects?

Some people get around it by making different accounts, different pages. Attempt to separate the private and public life, in whatever way possible.

And that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve set up a public Facebook page. As my profile remains private, I hope to display my professional work on my public page instead.

I suppose it also stops clogging up the spam that takes up space on my private feed. Please join that, and I would be grateful as I continue to navigate through the thorny issue of having a private and public life.

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I know so many people follow by the simple rule “If in doubt, don’t post it”, but after all, we do still want to share photos and thoughts with friends and family.

And social media provides that exact platform to share such ideas at one go to a wide and relatively captive audience.

How do you balance between the private and public on social media? Do you think there’s a perfect way? Let me know in the comments below!

Much Love,

Fari Wu

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