At first, you were worried about your privacy. However, the more you engaged in social media, the more careless you became. The worry fades out into a false sense of security. Most common excuse? I am not famous. Who cares about me?
A simple Google search brings back this definition of big data: extremely large data sets that may be analysed computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.
Every second, millions of tweets and facebook posts are sent out to the internet. This means millions of data points on the thoughts, feelings and aspirations of human beings across the globe.
These data points are what tech companies use to design adverts that are suited to you. Furthermore, they can target specific advertisements just for you.
Social media privacy
Your social media user account is private. This means that in normal circumstances you are the only individual who has access to it. Let us call that the back end. You are the only one who can post, like and comment from it.
Your social media user account is not private. This means that at the basic level, your friends, and followers see what you post. They can read and know what is on your mind. They can also tell what kind of person you are by your opinions. Call that the front end.
Send a tweet that is no more than 280 characters and join discussions on all matters ranging from politics, relationships, comedy among others. The currency on this platform is based on the number of retweets and likes that you get. In most instances, this is tied to the number of followers you have.
By default, anybody on Twitter can follow you and see your tweets. Let us take an example from one of our company Twitter accounts. I log in and see that one of the people I follow has retweeted an interesting tweet. The tweet is by someone I do not follow. So I click on his handle to open his profile.
First, the flag beside his username means he is Kenyan. That is pretty obvious. The tweet was on a discussion about domestic violence and double standards depending on who is accused.
Profile before follow
His bio mentions an American football team, meaning he is a sports fan. He joined Twitter in 2008, which makes him possibly older than 30 years. This theory can be backed up by his profile photo, which is of a thirty-something-year-old man.
We then started going through his tweets. Remember that these are available to us even before we follow him. He retweets several tweets about some news in America. This gives us another theory; it is probable that he is a Kenyan living (or has lived) in the United States. If you combine that with having a flag on his handle, he is proud of his where he is from.
A quick look at his tweets confirms that there is a strong connection with the US. Also, he shows significant interest in American politics and he is not a fan of Donald Trump. This is okay because everyone is entitled to their opinion.
Profile after follow
We follow his account. Immediately, Twitter’s algorithm suggests three accounts that we should follow.
We see tweets about religion, which give a glimpse of his religious views. Again, these are okay because under the Kenyan law, he has freedom of worship.
A certain handle keeps coming up in his replies. Opening this account in a different tab gives a glimpse into one of his friends. The said account wished him a happy birthday, so we know his birth date and month.
The said handle also tweeted about fall and summer, which implies that the friend lives in the US. We back this up by the number of US related tweets they like and respond to.
Oops.. we bumped into a twitter fight with an individual he knows. We cannot share the series of tweets here but they include some insults.
Well, remember a theory about his age? We found another series of tweets that all but confirmed it.
There are many more layers to this, but that is just scratched the surface. They also only considered tweets in the past 48 hours and we know this much.
Is Facebook better?
For the purposes of this article, we choose an interesting starting point. A screenshot from Facebook shared on Twitter. One user mocked faithful wives saying that despite their efforts, single women will still cheat with married men. A cheeky user commented, saying that she will keep cheating and even use the wife’s clothing to clean up after the act.
The screenshot did not hide the names of the users, so we followed one to Facebook. A simple search and cross-reference with her profile picture yielded the result we wanted. Remember that anyone in your circle can take a screenshot of your conversations and share it.
Profile before being friends
This is information on where they work now and where they have worked before. In addition, we get their field of training and the schools they went to. Lastly, we get to the city where they live and their rural home.
Around 2010, most people in Kenya who joined Facebook were in high school or out of high school. We can guess that she is between 28 and 35 years old. Facebook is more rich with information because of the pictures. Her pictures are free to view, so we have enough data points to know what she looks like.
A profile picture of her holding a child suggests that she is a mother. The absence of mention of any relationship suggests that there is a chance that she is a single mother. At this point, this is just a theory.
Profile after sending friend request
Also important to note is that posts on her profile are intermittent, which means she is not very active on her own profile. This usually means that most of her activity is in Facebook groups.
We dig into her gallery from 2013 and we find party pictures, which is common in college or university. This is information that suggests an outgoing person.
More detail reveals that she graduated high school in 2004, which is 15 years ago. If we guess she graduated at 18 years, that makes her 33 years of age.
What this means for social media
While we might think we have only exposed a section of our lives, it is easy for any one interested to build a profile about you. The comments, photos tagged in, and friends all interlink to triangulate to who you really are.
The US State Department recently announced that they will require your social media handles during visa application. If they mine your profiles five years back, they will have a pretty decent picture of who you are.
The Internet never forgets and neither should you. Each interaction on the web and social media is a footprint. Leave enough of those and it becomes data that can be analyzed. A fictional character once said: History has shown us time and time again that whenever a technological advancement can be used to hurt humanity, it will be.
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