Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Tangled Web - The True Life Cautionary Tale

Some time ago I wrote a feature script called The Tangled Web. It was optioned twice, nearly a third time, never made it into production. Its time has come and gone. Though its relevance hasn't. It was a cautionary tale of internet addiction and obsession and how one person lost everything in the real world without even noticing, so enamoured was he of the virtual one. It was about discovering, too late, that external beauty does not guarantee inner beauty, the woman of his obsession turning out to be ugly and empty on the inside. About how you can be anything you want on the internet and the consequences of that fatal illusion.

If it had been made back in the early noughties it might have been something. But now it's well trodden ground with films, both fictional and documentary, like Catfish, talhotblond, and Trust covering very similar themes in equally devastating fashion.

Strange then that a script I started writing over ten years ago should resonate so strongly with me in the present. But more of that shortly.

Tied to this is Mark Zuckerberg's supposedly controversial announcement in 2010 that privacy on the internet was dead. He was indeed absolutely right. The proliferation and penetration of social media in our lives has put true privacy at a premium. If you think otherwise you're kidding yourself.

Before I go any further let me plainly state:

This is not an apology. It is not a mea culpa. It is not a public service announcement. This is purely a selfish exercise. 

There was a time I liked someone very much. I thought they liked me. They turned out to be someone other than I thought. I became someone I am not as a result.

I can't do anything about the former - that is for that person to address, or not, in their own way, or not. I can, however, change the latter. I need to remember who I am. Not when I'm around people who love and respect and value me - that is a given. But even around people who lie and disrespect and devalue me. That's their problem, not mine. Never mine.

So where's this heading? Internet addiction, obsession, illusion, loss of privacy and angst?

Things you should bear in mind when using social media...

Facebook

The blocking mechanism is actually very good. Except for this one flaw - it only works on a per profile basis. It is easy for people to create multiple profiles - for example, a personal one; a stage name if you're a performer; a character name if you're involved in some creative endeavour; I've even seen profiles for pets! All against the terms and conditions but with a billion users who's going to effectively monitor this?

Therefore don't rely solely on the blocking function. Make your status updates and photos at a bare minimum "friends only" and only accept friend requests from people you know. If you leave all your settings "public" then that is exactly what they are!!! You may think you have blocked someone but they could still be accessing the public sections of your profile without you even knowing.

Twitter

The block function here is pretty ineffective insofar as you can still read tweets even though you can't like or retweet or do @username mentions. As always though, YOU control what you post and Twitter should always be treated as a public forum.

Tumblr

This social media platform is a very weird place. It is almost like a confessional where people post highly intimate thoughts about everything from suicidal tendencies to lack of self-worth to attempts at self-inspiration or what I usually call bullshit fortune cookie wisdom.

The block function is minimal. It only stops your posts appearing on that person's dash and they are unable to message you using their Tumblr handle. But they can still see your Tumblr feed, still reblog your posts, still like them, and if you have the Anonymous Ask function turned on, still message you. Even if they don't have a Tumblr blog themselves!

Changing your URL does nothing - if they have liked or reblogged but one post previously they can see the changed name. Even creating a completely new Tumblr is problematic if you regularly reblog other users in a clearly identifiable pattern.

What to do? Turn off Anonymous Asks or at the very least ignore ones that are negative (people seem unable to resist responding which causes the question and answer to be published for all to see) and only post things you are comfortable for a complete stranger to read/see.

Also, when replying to people - and this extends to all social media platforms - YOU control the amount of information you share. DO NOT give out intimate and graphic details about your personal and sex life, for example, to what at best could be a complete stranger. If it's information you wouldn't want in the public realm then don't be swayed by the supposedly anonymous nature of the internet even if you're using a pseudonym or handle.

On the flipside, there are applications like Site Block that will completely deny access to URL addresses. I am now using that on Chrome so that I am unable to see certain profiles and blogs.

Instagram

The block function here is very good... in Instagram itself. But here's the problem - there is a proliferation of other applications that feed off Instagram such as Webstagram and iphoneogram. Even on the Instagram website by using instagram.com/username. All will allow you to still view photos even when you've been blocked.

Hashtags also allow photos to be viewed even if a block is in place. For example, if you use the hashtag of a location or event, everyone's photos appear, aggregated into a different feed.

The only way around this is to make your Instagram setting "private". This cuts off the feed to these other applications and doesn't show on the hashtag search. Otherwise, everything is still readily accessible even though likes and comments can't be used.

Remember, it is the combination of your presence in all these platforms that builds a composite picture. So you have to protect yourself in ALL of them.

There are other platforms that I haven't covered here but the same rules apply. Never post anything you wouldn't want a complete stranger to see; use privacy settings where available; and YOU control what you put out there.

I hope this has been useful. You decide whether to heed the advice or not.

The Tangled Web was a pretty good script.

I'm a pretty good person.

I'm glad I finally remember those last two points.

Richard Hyde

3 comments:

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  2. Internet addiction can be avoided with proper discipline. Here in Australia, almost every families has a contract with an Australian broadband service provider which means the stakes are high. With proper discipline, there is still a low case of internet addiction in the country.

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  3. I guess internet addiction is the same as any other form of addiction, Jason. Sometimes discipline, however much intended, is hard to achieve. I suspect it is a growing and under-reported phenomenon and will only get worse with the proliferation of smart phone and tablet technology.

    As a writer it's fascinating because these things are designed to supposedly make it easier to communicate yet, in many ways, make us more isolated than ever. An interesting conundrum to explore.

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