From the day my parents bought our first family computer in 1998, I've been an early and eager adopter of any new social media platform I could get my hands on. My first love was MSN Messenger. I remember being 13 years old and sitting in front of my computer at the turn of the new millennium, half-waiting for all the computers in the world to crash, but mostly just wanting to feel closer to my friends.
I joined Facebook in 2006 when it was exclusive to university students, and quickly fell for all the information at my fingertips. Here was a directory of all my classmates, their likes and dislikes listed like neatly stacked ice-breakers, ready for the taking. It was easy to "creep" one's way to lasting friendships.
And then came Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Vine. All these tools with which to share the various parts of my personality felt empowering: I could finally be seen and heard. It didn't even matter that no one was listening.
That is, until I started to witness the virality of social media missteps. The Internet's vast ocean of potential slowly diminished into a desert of dread.
Remember Justine Saco's social media faux pas in 2013? She "jokingly" tweeted "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" before boarding a flight to Cape Town, South Africa. Eleven hours later her life as she knew it was over -- a momentary lapse in judgement made her an object of hatred and ridicule before being relegated to the realm of cautionary tale.
I know that I would never say or do anything that could be perceived as hateful. I prefer to save my voice to speak up for those who have been silenced. Yet witnessing the sheer ferocity of a Twitter lynch mob is enough to give a bystander stress hives. I started to develop a fear of offending that pushed my mind into overdrive -- this, of course, coincided with a period where I was seeking gainful employment. I was afraid that I would write something that could be used against me, that would annoy a prospective employer or that would disrupt the polished veneer of my online persona.
I would overthink every potential tweet to the point of Twitter-paralysis: I was only capable of sharing videos or articles, where opinions were safely guarded by quotation marks. But I couldn't abandon the platform -- averting my eyes wouldn't make our culture of shaming go away.
Instead, I took refuge in Snapchat. Yes, the notorious app that has been blamed for a rise in "teen sexting." Snapchat allows a level of anonymity that is rare in our digital age. There are no archives, no profiles. The things you share expire. And that is not to say there are no consequences to the actions one chooses to share on the app. Early this year, a Pennsylvania teenager was arrested for allegedly murdering a classmate and then sharing a selfie he took with the victim on Snapchat.
Most of what I share on Snapchat is too mundane for Instagram or Twitter, yet this is what makes the app so special. You can literally share a moment and then it goes away. I don't have to worry about what people will think about the selfie I took with food trapped in my teeth, because chances are they will forget about it as soon as the image disappears.
Today's generation of teenagers were born into the burgeoning digital age, which may be why they don't take their privacy for granted in the way many people do by putting it all out there. My youngest siblings don't even use Facebook, but they have all embraced the ephemerality of sending content on Snapchat.
Snapchat's success story may reflect society's growing disdain for archiving experiences, but definitely not a desire to close ourselves off from the world. I have never been so thrilled to share, and be, an honest reflection of myself. I've even changed my habits on other social media platforms: I've set my Instagram account to private, I tweet truthfully and informatively, but refrain from digressing into micro-confessionals.
I've taken ownership of my privacy and that is true empowerment.
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