Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Public Anonymity: Is it possible?

As I sat at my grandparents' table this morning eating breakfast, I leafed through the New York Times as I do every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. One article in particular caught my eye. Found here, this article is the inspiration for today's entry (I had originally read about the "kissing couple" on a friend's blog; in today's society, with all of the new avenues for social media, is it possible to be completely anonymous online?

Sure, Facebook allows you to have various levels of privacy settings for different friends (or in my case, friends lists. There are a handful of maybe ten people or so who can see everything, family who can see some stuff, and others still who are between these levels and next to nothing at all. Extreme? Probably. Doesn't bother me any.)

However, even if friends aren't seeing certain posts, pictures, and the like, doesn't Facebook cater to potential employers and allow them to see previous posts? (I could be wrong here, but it seems plausible). Additionally, Facebook also allows users to download a file of everything they've posted, including pictures and other files.

Twitter, the 140 character update social media outlet, also has privacy settings. Sure, you can set settings to protect your tweets, but for many, Twitter is a way to voice one's opinion and share it with a wider audience. Some use it to see what their favorite celebrity is eating, doing, or where they happen to be gallivanting around Hollywood or whatever. It seems almost nauseating how many people follow various celebrities. I don't recall when (or where) I read it, but I believe it said that Ashton Kutcher is/was the most followed person on Twitter. Or maybe he was the first person to hit one million followers.

Because I'm a geek for social media and (some) number stuff, I did a quick Google and Twitter search. To (probably mis)quote one of my favorite characters from Numb3rs, "Curiosity: good for scientists, not so much for cats."

According to an article from the Buki Tuki (oh, Google searches, you are ridiculous sometimes), the celebrities who are most followed on Twitter are (side note: the celebrity list is from the site linked above. The numbers are from Twitter as of 1:10 PM on June 21):

- Lady Gaga (@ladygaga): 11,048,255 little monsters following
- Justin Bieber ( @justinbieber): 10,474,852 beliebers following (if fingers could have aneurysms, mine had some whilst typing the word "beliebers")
- Barack Obama (@barackobama): 8,758,037 followers (some names are easier to come up with nicknames for followers than others)
- Britney Spears (@britneyspears): 8,268,816 followers
- Kim Kardashian (@kimkardashian): 7,958,917 followers
- Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk): 6,989,951 followers
- Ellen DeGeneres (@theellenshow): 6,904,034 followers
- Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13): 6,786,591 followers
- Oprah Winfery (@oprah): 6,343,932 followers
- 50 Cent (@50cent): 4,707,392 followers

Personally, I feel as though there are only a handful of celebrities who actually write/produce/tweet tweets that are worth reading and interesting material. And some that I follow just because the tweets are simply amazing, humorous, etc. Those select Twitter feeds are:

- PostSecret/Frank Warren (@postsecret): 398, 476 followers | If you haven't heard of PostSecret, check this out. Please. It's simply life-changing.
- Lord Voldemort (@LordVoldemort_7): 1,242,864 followers | Even if you're not a Harry Potter fan, LV's tweets are hysterical. Trust me on this.
- Alimi Ballard (@alimiballard): 1,425 followers | Alimi's an actor from Numb3rs, Clarissa Explains it All, and Fast Five, among others. His tweets are simply uplifting. And sometimes he'll reply to you. He's replied to a tweet or two of mine.
- Stephen Colbert (@StephenAtHome): 2,401,888 followers | It's Stephen Colbert, people. Need I say more?
- Wil Wheaton (@wilw): 1,831,737 followers and LeVar Burton (@levarburton): 1,660,990 followers | Because Star Trek is awesome, and so are these two.
- And, lastly, two of my favorite TV show producers, Carlton Cuse (@carltoncuse): 64,563 followers and Damon Lindelof (@damonlindelof): 131,814 followers.

(And as a side note, I think I've only seen one celebrity who has publicly mentioned possibly putting privacy settings back on her Twitter feed. the celebrity? Martha Plimpton, from The Goonies and most recently, Raising Hope. I'm still looking for the exact tweet so I can post a screencap.)

Even Blogger allows its bloggers to have different privacy settings. I haven't played around much with these apart from comments. I'll have to do some exploring in this regard. I do know, however, that some blogs are "invite only" reads.

Other outlets for social media (Tumblr, LinkedIn, and others, including the old school LiveJournal, GreatestJournal, Xanga, and (gasp), probably even MySpace) all probably have some semblance of privacy settings. Tumblr lets you block users, much in the same way Twitter lets you block - and even report spam - users. Similarly, LinkedIn allows you to show only so much of your profile when "connecting" with another user. Admittedly, it is a little creepy when LinkedIn shows you its suggested "people you may know," how you're connected to them, and whether anyone else in your network is connected to them.

I'm not saying I'm weirded out when Facebook does this... Sure, I might have four events, eight "likes," and fifteen friends in common with the person, but by no stretch of the imagination would I add them as my friend. Maybe there's a reason I don't want to be their friend. (By the way, friend purges are one of the best things to do on Facebook apart from comment avalanches and epic comment wars.)

I may only (currently) have four people blocked on Facebook, and I've considered others. Meanwhile, I also have 136 applications. 136! That's simply obscene. For now, that's really the extent of this longer than expected rant/rave/post about social media. I think it's really fascinating and that the trend will continue to grow as time goes on. It'll be an interesting journey.

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