Exploring the power of the delete button and the implications social media has on teens today

by Andrew Okwuosah, Staff Writer

Social media has been credited with bringing people together, but its true impact often goes unnoticed.

“Yes, social media definitely has an impact on our personal brands,” David Di Franco, Jr., founder of marketing resource Brand Rockt, said. “Platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow us to express ourselves — which unfortunately, can sometimes backfire depending on what is said.”

There is a good chance that you are among Facebook’s 1.39 billion users, Twitter’s 288 million users, Kik’s 200 million users, and/or the “over a billion” people that visit YouTube monthly, but what happens to the data shared on those platforms once that mighty send, post, snap, tweet, upload or pin button is tapped?

In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency (NSA)’s surveillance of American citizens. In his wake, London based newspaper The Guardian reported on an NSA order forcing Verizon Wireless to hand over all call records for calls between the United States and abroad, or local calls within the US.  The Washington Post followed up with a story on the agency tapping nine major American Internet companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and Apple.

Codenamed PRISM, the information obtained included personal photographs, emails, documents and videos of unknowing citizens.

Teens are often lulled into a false sense of security thinking that concealers like the ‘delete’ button actually do their jobs. The problem is ironically enough, that they don’t- at least not completely.

According to a company report released in response to Snowden’s leaks in 2014, Google users across all of the company’s services like Gmail, YouTube and Google Search have been subject to 31,698 requests by the U.S. government for data. That is an 19 percent increase from late 2013.

Facebook also reported a similar 24% increase in government data requests in the first half of 2014, with 34,946 data requests, according to a similar report from the Menlo Park, CA-based company.

And the widespread implications of social media and lack of privacy has trickled down to colleges, high schools, and middle schools across the nation.  Snapchat has blown up in popularity over the past year, especially among teenagers or “90’s kids.” Networks like ESPN, Yahoo News, and CNN have flocked to the platform attempting to regain lost ground amongst teens who have ditched their cable subscription.

Among Snapchat’s millions of users, was 16 year old murder suspect Maxwell Morton. After committing the murder, Morton used Snapchat to send a selfie to a friend, who then screen-shotted it and sent it to the police. The incriminating Snap was dubbed “key evidence” and was grounds for Morton’s arrest.

“I’m not aware of any situations to the same degree as Morton’s case,” assistant principal James Lockhart said.  “It’s common that students are being heavily disciplined because of things they have posted outside of school hours. I think most students have to realize that we live in this kind of era.”

Students send risky, violent, or salacious material over apps and think of the delete button as their failsafe. But the more private information that becomes public knowledge, it is more and more obvious that the delete button isn’t as trusty as previously thought.

“It needs to be made clear to students that everything they’re posting online is not as private as they may think it is,” Di Franco said. “A status posted on Facebook today could somehow turn up years later, falling into the wrong hands — such as an interested employer.”

So pressing send or posting that picture is a weighty action that has impacts beyond just that moment. Not only can it affect your future, but your present. It can change and impact people’s perceptions of you, and give certain people accessibility to you they shouldn’t have.

“I am concerned with my posts portraying me in a bad light,” junior Alyssa Smith said. Just about every other teenager who uses social media feels the same way.

Social media seems to be a pebble in the ocean, but it makes a larger ripple than people realize. So make sure that what you tweet, send, Snap, or post today doesn’t affect your tomorrow.