If the web had a tagline, it would be, "The Internet is forever." On Thursday, May 8, 2014, Snapchat settled with the FTC over concerns about deliberately misleading consumers into thinking their information was secure and private. "According to the FTC's complaint, Snapchat made multiple misrepresentations to consumers about its product that stood in stark contrast to how the app actually worked."
It's hard to understand how people believed Snapchat was secure in the first place. Like anything and everything sent over a wire or through the air, digital information can be intercepted. The fact that software also exists to recover Snapchat messages from your phone long after they have been deleted by the app should have been a clue that nothing is safe.
What this trial really illustrates is the fervent wish that people don't want to be held accountable for their questionable content choices. The bottom line is, don't publish anything you wouldn't want future employers, political opponents, or family members to see. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:
1. Stories you haven't fact-checked.
I would like to live the rest of my life without ever again seeing the "inspiring" (and totally untrue) tale of the bald eagle who rips off its beak during a mid-life crisis in order to grow stronger. Sharing stories like this not only spreads misinformation, but makes you look uneducated.
Familiarize yourself with popular satire sites like The Onion, Private Eye, and NewsBiscuit and don't share their links without a disclaimer. If you're still not sure about the source, search for the topic on Snopes, a website debunking urban legends, Internet rumors, email forwards, and other stories of questionable origin.
2. Hateful comments.
Even if you have the privacy settings as high as you can set them, and you believe all your Facebook friends agree with you 100%, you will still find your darkest sentiments exposed if you share them. Just ask super-racist Donald Sterling, whose own girlfriend turned him over to the press. As your mother always said, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
3. Sexy talk.
The recipient of your cheesy pun about breakfast meat may think it's clever at the time, and may even be turned on if you're lucky. After you part ways, people seeing it on the Internet will have a field day. Save yourself the embarrassment and reserve dirty talk for unrecorded in-person encounters.
4. Nude pictures or images of your genitalia.
If you don't want your boss or mother to see it, don't take it. It will end up in front of the wrong eyes. Guaranteed. Need I remind you of the aptly named Anthony Weiner scandal or this poor son who was tricked into seeing nude photos of his mother by a jealous ex.
Like real life, everything you do on the Internet can (and usually does) have consequences. Gone are the pre-digital days when people could walk away from an uncomfortable conversation before you went too far. Now the whole world is your audience and they never forget. Do your future self a favor and think twice before you post.
Have more suggestions or digital horror stories? Share them with us in the comments.