In this day and age, most of us don't think twice before posting a selfie to snapchat or a filtered shot of our food when we're out to eat at our favorite restaurant. What we often forget, however, is that you can't always be certain whose hands these images may end up in.
On Monday morning, as you have likely now heard, Kim Kardashian was robbed at gunpoint while alone in her hotel in Paris. Although the details aren't 100% clear yet, it appears as if the thieves had strategically and intentionally targeted Kim K.
While discussing the story with a friend, the question came up on how the thieves could have known that Kim would be alone and what her location was. And, of course, the answer was easy to guess: through social media.
Kim, like many of us non-celebrities, is constantly posting a stream of pictures and videos documenting her everyday life. While to many of us this habit may seem harmless and even silly, we forget just who might use this information against us.
Celebrities, unfortunately, are in even more danger, as their follower counts are often millions of times larger than an average person. Many celebrities have experienced a fan who has taken their excitement a little too far - from harassment via Twitter to stalkers that arrive at the stars' homes. Celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Jennifer Lopez, and Mel Gibson have all had restraining orders placed against stalkers, and countless other stars such as Erin Andrews and Taylor Swift have had stalkers put in jail after varying levels of threats and attacks.
But the dangers do not stop with celebrities.
How often have you posted an image while on vacation bragging about the amazing margaritas by the pool, not considering how this is alerting all of your followers of your empty home? How many times have you snapchatted yourself out drinking at a club with your roommates, not considering how this is indicating that you might be intoxicated and vulnerable when you are leaving? How often have you tweeted about the amazing food you just ate at your favorite downtown restaurant, not thinking about how easy this could make it for someone to track you down if they so desired?
Although we don't often think about it, social media is giving anyone with internet access a constant feed of our every move.
Most of us think, "well, that would never happen to me," and move on with our snapchatting and instagramming lives. But, as someone who has been stalked before, I can say with certainty that it can happen to those of us who are least expecting it.
When I was 18-years-old I spent a year abroad in Belgium, attending a local high school, learning French, and enjoying the culture. While I was there, I met a Belgian boy who was a friend of my host sister and after a few months we began dating. Although he didn't attend my school, we had many mutual friends and often attended the same events.
In April, just a few months before I headed home, my boyfriend received an anonymous letter documenting various actions that I had taken while on a trip in Portugal. Over the following few weeks, he began receiving more letters and eventually text messages from various burner phones containing vivid descriptions of my outfits every day, where I was during lunch breaks, and who I was sitting with for a drink after school. The text messages even continued once I returned home to the United States, with the writer describing images they found of me on Facebook.
Although the letters and text messages were never aggressively threatening, it was very scary to think that someone was watching my every move and that there was nothing I could do about it.
Fast forward five years to a world where we are practically begging people to watch our every move with every post we make on social media.
When I lived in Belgium, the only social platform widely used was Facebook. Now, however, it would be very easy to track my movements even more closely. So many of us often absentmindedly post a snap chat with a geotag of our home location or comment on about how excited we are for an upcoming family trip. Little do we realize how this could make us a target for something that can end up being pretty scary.
After my experience having someone watch my every move, I try to be cautious about what I'm posting and who I'm sharing it with. My privacy controls are set to the highest level on every form of social media. However, that doesn't guarantee that I'm absolutely safe.
You never know who is gaining access to the things that you are posting, which is why it is so integral that we are thoughtful and intentional about what we put online.
So yes, be silly. Take that selfie, post a picture of your favorite margarita at a restaurant, or share a nice picture of you cuddled up with tea at home. Just think about when you're posting and what you're posting every single time. What little things could you be giving away without realizing it? The internet is a bigger and scarier place than many of us want to admit.
The bottom line is, regardless of how carefully set your privacy controls are, you can never be 100% sure of who is getting access to the information you put online. So don't stop living your life... just live it with a little more care.
Next time you're about to send that snap or post that tweet, consider what information you may be unwittingly giving away along with it.
SHARE this story to remind your friends and family to be careful online.