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Social Media Jungle: The Danger of Over Sharing

Simplicity of social media hides real dangers


Late on a Saturday evening in March, a thin, attractive young woman walked into Mulligans and pulled an opalescent Apple iPhone out of her purse. She ordered a colorful drink, cradling her phone in one hand, errantly dabbing at the screen with the other. Not pausing to look up, she misstepped slightly, cupping the glass without spilling her drink as she skirted a man making a beeline to the bathroom. She sat down and finished checking in with the FourSquare app to tell her friends about the cocktail.

"There are people that I still talk to from across the country that found me on FourSquare because we both checked into the same club in Las Vegas," said Krystin Hayer, the young woman at the bar.

Hayer's details are available online with nothing more than a smartphone. A Google search for Krystin Hayer turns up several hundred thousand results. The top picks were her unprotected social media accounts. With that little information, someone can name her dog and describe him.

Hayer has an information problem.

For many, Boise's small population and lack of crime make social networking seem safe. Local users casually dish on any and all subjects without regard for censorship. Couple that with Boise's position as one of the 20 most socially networked cities in the United States, as named by Men's Health Magazine, an early tech adoption rate and a penchant for oversharing. An entire generation is learning a different way to live, and a default setting for sociality may not be a good thing.

Attached to Hayer's account is a picture made sepia-toned with Instagram, another sharing platform, showing a dark-haired woman in a low-cut red dress, her arm and chest bearing colorful tattoos. By tapping on her picture, followed by a few more quick taps, a list of her linked social networks are revealed. Google helps find what isn't linked.

Social media has become an addiction for some users. With the ability to share intimate details of one's life with ease, users are lulled into a false sense of security. By combining all the little bits of information, a large, detailed picture of someone's life emerges--a picture that can leave users vulnerable.

FourSquare makes a night out a competition. The popular app, boasting more than 10 million users, employs the GPS component of a smartphone to log the user's location, allowing operators to check in at businesses and venues for points. Hayer said she uses it to meet new people, because:

"It's neat to run into people that you only knew through social networking," she said.

There's a lot to know about Hayer, and anybody could dig it up while sitting across from her in a bar. The Boise bikini club The Torch has a FourSquare location for patrons to check into. An accompanying leaderboard shows which of your friends are going out the most. Most Boise venues, from gas stations to greasy spoons, street vendors to strip clubs, have places for the app's users to check in.

The mayor of the location--the person who visits most--is showcased on the club's FourSquare page, and it features the same dark-haired woman at Mulligans. Hayer is not only the mayor of The Torch, she has been a dancer at the club for more than two years.

If you called the Torch, no one would tell you an employee's address, but it's available straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Hayer is unconcerned about the risks associated with broadcasting her every move.

"I never would check in somewhere if I didn't want someone to know where I was," said Hayer.

Yet on many weekend nights, she broadcasts that she isn't home by checking in at different bars and clubs around town. She frequents the Ranch Club and went there on June 21. She goes to the Brickyard; she visited there on June 24. She checked in at a FourSquare location created for the apartment of a guy she was dating. Her other mayorships include The Jungle, a building north of State Street.

"The Jungle is my house," she said. The address is clearly labeled, a map to the building just a tap away.

"Our house is called 'the Torch House,' according to cab drivers," she said.

Boise Weekly found Hayer as a source through her profile and negotiated an initial interview via text message. Though cagey about meeting for an interview, Hayer agreed to answer questions via text message--while simultaneously logging her whereabouts on FourSquare.

She said she has never had a problem with social media and safety. Hayer said her use of social media has been free of controversy--for the most part.

"Well, I had something happen that made me delete my Twitter and Facebook for about four months until I made new ones," she said. "My phone was stolen in Vegas and people posted inappropriate things."

For the time in between, a stranger hijacked Hayer's entire digital life.

"I just deleted everything to make sure it wouldn't happen again," she said.

But a far worse scenario, given her frequent and public check-ins on FourSquare, is certainly possible: A Torch patron could follow Hayer back to her house, for example.

All a stalker would need is a user's check-in at a club. He or she could lay in wait for a check-in at the person's home. On an average night out, the social media user shares location details with friends, accruing drink specials or bragging rights for mayorships. But that information is a digital paper trail anyone could follow, not just law enforcement after an incident.

Having a page with information about a person is helpful. Knowing the name of the cute girl or guy at the other table in a bar can get you access to their profile: interests, likes and dislikes, and the absolutely crucial relationship status. These companies want to make sharing information fun, because it's beneficial to building social relationships.

"The whole concept behind Facebook is you live your life online," said Glenn Greenwald, writer and political commentator, during a visit to Boise in February.