Social Media – the new normal

I originally wrote this article for the New Zealand magazine KiwiParent.

In this digital age it’s easy to take advantage of the social sharing abilities that surround us.

Whilst there are many positives, there’s an equally long list of negatives. It’s a topic my partner and I have had many discussions about and we share as much as we’re comfortable with – which is quite a lot. Both of us are actively involved in social media, which may have influenced our decision, but, as Baxter’s parents, we know it was our decision to make.

Social media is a powerful social and business tool, which, in recent years, has grown at a rapid rate. I predict that it is only going to keep growing. For a large majority of people, social media is a huge part of their daily lives from the moment they wake up in the morning to when they go to bed. I recently saw some results from a British study, which were rather alarming. The study found that the average person spends more time on their electronic devices than sleeping, and I would suspect that social media plays a big part in these results.

In New Zealand around 2.5 million Kiwis use Facebook every month. 1.9 million of those use it every day, with an average of about 15 times a day, I might add. A whopping 79% of Kiwis use it to stay connected to friends and family. According to Facebook for Business, 82% of mums access Facebook. An extremely large percent of our media consumption is Facebook, so you can see why it is so powerful.

From my experience and perception, the older demographic (Generation X) is not always so welcoming of this new online world we live in but are slowly warming to the idea once they learn more and see its benefits. I think more people are starting to come to terms with the fact that this is not a phase, and it’s here to stay.

For me, social media is a huge part of my world. I manage a social media agency full-time and have recently (August 2015) become a mum. When I was pregnant I decided to keep a blog to talk about my pregnancy so I could better remember it. I kept this blog private for a long time but made the decision to publicise it once Baxter entered the world. I had no idea just how many people my blog would reach and touch. For the past nine months I have been documenting my journey of the ups and the downs of becoming a new mum because, let’s be realistic, the bad parts are often not spoken about – and social media carries a lot of blame for this.

It is so easy to be consumed by everything we see online. That ‘Instagram Mum’ who has her shit together and has all the nice things. While she may appear to have the best of everything, that doesn’t mean she’s necessarily happy or doesn’t have her own problems. Remember, they’re only showing you what they want you to see. Very few people will share the true realities of their life.

For me, social media really helped me in the early days of becoming a mum. It was a virtual support network that I could access 24/7. There is a huge mummy community within Facebook and Instagram in particular, and these conversations and new friends were what often got me through the 3am feeds.

The number of new friends I have made through social media since becoming a mum has been astonishing, and I love seeing photos and updates on their wee babes as a few of them live overseas. I also have family who are not local and Facebook has been a great tool to allow them to keep in touch with my child’s progress and growth. It’s almost like they’ve seen him in real life.

The argument is often put forward that our children are unaware of the imprint all this sharing creates for them down the track and are unable to make the decision for themselves. This is why we as parents make the informed decision on their behalf and only share things we are comfortable with being seen online. I personally would never post anything negative or inappropriate. While I blog about the harder aspects of parenthood, I would never say or do anything that would have a negative impact on my child’s life later down the track.

In April 2015, Facebook introduced a feature aimed at new parents called Scrapbook, presumably directed at those new parents who annoy the heck out of their friends by posting an unending stream of baby photos. C’mon, we’re all guilty of it…

The feature allows parents to tag their children in photos and link into a scrapbook for your child, which you can then share. You can opt to co-own the Scrapbook with a partner who you’re in a relationship with on Facebook. You decide the tag – could be your child’s name or even just the initials. Only you and your partner have the ability to tag your child in photos and you can delete the Scrapbook if you change your mind.

What we need to always remember is that what goes out there stays there forever. Once uploaded, it’s in the public domain and that’s when you run the risk of Identity theft, copyright infringement and other similar issues. Be aware of how much you share and the potential risks. Never give out personal information such as your address, phone number, or other data you don’t want people knowing. It’s a risk we take when choosing to share private parts of our lives online. Knowing the risks is a huge part of safeguarding our future generations and ourselves.

Ensure your privacy settings are set correctly to guard against just anybody seeing your photos and personal information. Without users social media wouldn’t be what it is today so, while there are lots of negatives, companies like Facebook and Instagram do their best to protect your information. You can choose who can see your posts, whether it’s the general public, just your friends, or a more specific group of people. You have full control over who can see what’s on your profile and timeline.

The ‘Privacy Checkup’ is a tool within Facebook that enables you to see and review these settings as well as manage what apps have access and who can see your personal information, such as your phone number and address. Sadly, even with tight security settings, your personal information may leak and nothing is ever really safe from hackers. This is why we need to be smart about what we share, and not share anything we’re not comfortable with or anything that would pose a potential threat.

If I don’t want people seeing it or knowing it then don’t post it. It’s quite simple.

The ease of social media has made it inviting to so many, especially new parents. It so easily enables us to make contact and share real-time updates, now even having the ability to go live.

Society has changed and for many this is the new normal. Will it be the same when my 9-month-old son is a teenager? Maybe, maybe not.

Some Social Media Dos and Don’ts

Do remember that potential employers can see your social profiles and what you post online (privacy settings dependent).

Don’t post any personal information, phone number or addresses.

Do be weary about who you accept as friends and followers. Identity thieves often create fake accounts in order to obtain personal information that would otherwise have been private.

Don’t click on dodgy looking links and fall for ‘too good to be true’ competitions on Facebook. You will not win a Range Rover.

Do check your privacy settings every couple of months to ensure everything is how you want it and there haven’t been any changes.

Don’t post public updates about being on holiday etc – thieves look out for this type of information.

Do remember that what you post IS permanent. Whilst you’re able to delete it, people can print and/or take screen captures.

Don’t post anything you wouldn’t say in person – once it’s out there, there’s no taking it back.

Do enjoy it. Whilst there are many downsides, there are also many positives if you post with care and have your privacy settings secure.

Useful links:

Facebook Scrapbook
http://www.facebook.com/help/1530275617253660/

Facebook Privacy Settings
http://www.facebook.com/help/325807937506242/

Internet security/safety
http://www.dia.govt.nz/Identity—Are-you-a-victim-of-identity-theft
http://www.police.govt.nz/advice/email-and-internet-safety/online-identity-theft

Cyber Security/Netsafe
http://www.netsafe.org.nz/

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