What are we, but the stories we tell! In my pre-Internet childhood, it was quite common to write personal diaries. Some were kept in locks to evade any breach of privacy. At some point in time, someone will read the personal diary and that might bring a big change in the life of that individual. Stories were told in movies and books, about how the breach of the information from a personal diary can radically change lives.

There was a concept of privacy even in Pakistan. There are two paradigms to understand the social media and its nature. Many experts claim that social media is a new form of media. Critically speaking one can hardly call social media new. It’s rather advanced, but not new. The social impact of social media especially commercial networks like Facebook and Twitter is felt by all sectors of the society. Technology impacts the personal life and consequently the culture of a society. Pakistan is going online and most of the people who tend to use the Internet in Pakistan end up using social media. Mobile handheld devices and the low-cost Internet have made the process smooth. Millions are using social media for micro-blogging to share their personal life and ideas about life. Social media has redefined privacy and sharing. It has become a personal diary that is kept in a place, which many do not understand, and is shared with the people that many do not know. Pakistanis are under threat not only from social media companies but also by their own government. Spying on people by the governments and the agencies has reached an unprecedented level.

A country with a very low level of education and a dire condition of human rights provides a deadly ground for person freedom. Many unsuspecting citizens are using social media without understanding the basics of online privacy. Billionaire owners of social media giants cannot be happier. Millions of people sharing the personal information that is worth billions for the exchange of social media services that are too complex to be fully understood by a user. This is the digital form of exploitation, and exploitation is anything but new.

Pakistan is home to one of the oldest civilizations of the human history. Our social communication and interaction are based on the generational social learning. We all have multiple social selves and we behave differently in different social circles. A Saturday night with friends can be very different than a Friday prayer with our elders. This is not hypocrisy, as moral extremists would suggest, but decency. This is what helps us to switch between our multiple selves and behave differently in different social situations and circles. Sharing thoughts and personal lives sometimes mean, that we are mixing up all of these circles. We are sharing information with the people, who are not supposed to know what we did last night; and in some cases do not even want to know. It is like giving a free tour of your personal life to everyone who has a social media profile, or sometimes just the Internet. There are certain ideas that should not be shared with certain people even within the family, what to talk of professional colleagues. Sitting behind screens in our rooms, using a personal gadget gives us an illusion of privacy. We live in a country that is pregnant with Ideologies. Pakistan claims to be an ideological state and thus dogma is held more secret than human welfare for even survival. Social media posts that are not aligned with the dominating ideologies can be lethal.

The nature of social media is hardly understood by its users. It appears to be a free service with unlimited benefits of communication and connectivity. It gratifies the complex needs of heterogeneous groups and provides uninterrupted social activity. There is a lack of research on social media as its growth surpasses any effort to understand it. Some studies have suggested that social media increases our isolation and stress. Despite exposing our personal life to the whole world we might end up feeling lonelier.

During my lectures and interaction with common people as well as fellow scholars, I came across the mentality of “I got nothing to hide”. However, our ideas, ideologies are not static but dynamic. We are subject to political and social change and we adapt to our surroundings. We are living in a well-connected and well-documented digital world. The world that does not forget. Social media is always encouraging us to share more data about us. The seemingly innocent questions of our social media profile and suggestion to connect with people is a well-designed trap to trick us to more personal exposure. Terms and conditions that may apply on social media are carefully crafted to be extremely complex. One can hardly ignore that technology is embedded in a culture so social media is not universal or neutral. It brings cultural conflicts that become more lethal in a different cultural context. Social media is not your trusted friend, as many see it be. People get addicted and thus develop a relationship with their social media profiles. Many social media companies are not only selling our information to advertisers but also giving it to the spy agencies. Not to mention with this information these companies are making billions of dollars but are not sharing any profits with the users. You are allowing your future employer to know that you have a drinking problem or something worse. Pakistan is still a very conservative society and one should not underestimate the importance of privacy and its effects on the whole family.

There are many non-commercial alternatives to search engines that do not spy on you. There are web browsers that are better in privacy. There are non-commercial social media networks that care for the privacy. One should always keep an eye on the default settings. Try to minimise the information that one is providing to the social network profile. Giving out one’s location all the time is not a very wise thing to do. Before you apply for a job or a position it is always better to have a background check on yourself. If your usage of social media was too heavy and there is too much that might haunt you, deleting and making a new profile can also be an option. Of course, the data will always be available to the agencies and it will never be deleted from the servers of the social networks, you can, however, limit the public access to your past ideas. A golden rule of social media is not to post anything online until you want it to be published on the front page of a newspaper. A careful usage of social media will help us to not only survive our mistakes but correct and improve them. We all have secrets and we all need privacy even if we like to think otherwise. Commercial social networks should be kept under check with a combination of technological and social activism.