Thursday, July 24, 2014

If You're Not On Social Media, Do You Still Exist?*

Recently, I Googled an old friend.  Did I say friend?

We haven't spoken in over fifteen years (wow, where did the time go?). 
Things didn't end...well.

When we first met,  we were fresh out of college and not  sure what was next. We acted in a few local plays (drama nerd alert!) and saw a ton of movies together.We also spent late nights talking about anything and everything.

Real friends don't let friends Google ex-friends. Or something.

As I scanned the Google search results on my "frenemy", the imp on my left shoulder hoped I'd find something negative. What can I say? I'm only human.

Alas, it was not to be.


Not because my searching skills weren't up to snuff (please--I'm a librarian), but because he doesn't exist on social media (at least, not under his real name).  Not even on LinkedIn.

He may as well have been a ghost. 

The search result I did find displayed his full name, address, age, and phone number.  Apart from that, there was nothing.

At first I was, well, stunned.  But, perhaps I shouldn't have been.  According to the Pew Research Internet Project, "
As of January 2014, 74% of online adults [in the U.S.] use social networking sites."   This means that 79 million Americans do not use social media.  Not to mention, "15% of American adults do not use the internet at all, and another 9% of adults use the internet but not at home."

The more I thought about it, the more I began to envy his lack of social media detritus (under his real name, anyway). 

Just think of:

Assuming he doesn't have a smartphone, or social media profiles under a different name, he's enjoying a level of privacy that's nearly extinct. A level of privacy that hasn't been normal since the early part of the first Clinton administration.
In fact, he might not exist on any server at all.

Mind. Blown.

                                                                                                            Image obtained from Giphy.  

Google and Privacy (An Oxymoron?)
When I signed up for Gmail back in 2005, I did not read their privacy policy. I just wanted fast, free, easy email.  I didn't realize--and back then, I may not have cared-- that Google was scanning my Gmail, including emails sent to me by others.  I signed up for Facebook in (I think) 2007, because everyone else I knew was on it.  Again, it didn't occur to me to be concerned about having my data harvested. Call it naïveté, carelessness, or something harsher.

Some might argue that my ex-friend is missing out by opting out of social media (if, in fact, he is). What about job opportunities on LinkedIn?  Or re-connecting with old high school buddies on Facebook? How on earth does he tweet about his favorite TV shows?

I Googled him because I wanted to see what he was up to--but I didn't want to, you know, interact with him.  Since this isn't possible right now, he'll  remain a mystery. 

And after so many years, after all, what is there left to say?

is a cross-collaborative initiative where Tarleton State University students, faculty, and staff organize an annual social media conference and produce a peer-reviewed social media research journal. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. for the latest social media news, research, and more.

Yvonne is a TSMRI co-director and librarian who likes old
and new media.

For more information on privacy online, as well as on your digital rights, visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation's website.


  1. I'll bet he's haunting this and that special interest group under aliases. I know I am. Just returned from extended family reunion of sorts though and a few relatives may have guilted me into joining the fun under true full name.


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