For someone who plans to major in journalism, I am not as social media savvy as I should be. I don’t have an Instagram, and I barely know how to work my Twitter. I use my Facebook as somewhere to keep my vacation photos, and my Snapchats are usually of my cats or food. The only social media I do use is Tumblr, which is so inundated with “Sherlock” theories, anything about “Harry Potter,” hipster photos and other dorky endeavors that I try to distance it from my real name as much as possible.
Which is why I found it surprising that, when all my friends got Tinder, I couldn’t help but try it out for myself.
In my typical fashion of social media ineptitude, “trying it out” still only meant swiping left, or rejecting, almost everyone out of fear that I might actually have to talk to strangers. Not being single, I had no valid reason to be on Tinder anyway, besides just being curious what my friends were doing.
All it took was for one friend to take my phone and swipe right for everyone in a five-mile radius to really get myself into the action. I went from having maybe four matches to around 400 in a few short days.
The floodgates had already been let loose at this point, so I no longer had a reason to be cautious and discerning anymore. I swiped left or right at will with little thought as to who they might be. Responses from people ranged from a simple “hello” to seemingly kind comments (until they were unreturned, when they became progressively nastier), to rather blunt requests.
It’s not as if Tinder is anonymous. People can see your first name, age, picture and, at least in my case, everything I’ve liked on Facebook since I was in middle school. If you really wanted to, all it would take is a quick Google search to find out your full name and probably more things you don’t want strangers on the Internet finding out, especially if you have the same level of discretion on your other social media accounts. Even if people don’t feel compelled to actually search for you, you will most likely see people around campus.
So why are we all OK with this?
Well, for starters, I thought it felt a little like the “hot or not” list from the movie “Sydney White,” which was kind of fun. It was also a good self-esteem boost, which was nice.
But I think the main reason is that the Internet can lead people to have a false sense of anonymity.
There’s just something about the Internet that can cause a sort of disconnect with reality when talking to people. It’s kind of a contradiction in a way: Social media can bring people together from all over the world, but there’s still something missing that makes it feel a little distant, even if you’re only talking to someone a few miles away.
When I first started thinking about it, I realized I wasn’t thinking of the people on Tinder as real people. It didn’t really sink in that they existed out in the real world, not just inside my phone.
When I thought about it more, it seemed that, at least for me, the less information about myself that was on the account and the less people I knew on the site, the less I was concerned about what I did or said on that site.
This created different groups of social media that I treated in different ways. There was the more professional group of Twitter and Facebook that I knew schools and potential employers would see and had a lot of my personal information. I treated these very carefully, which led me to barely use them. Then there were the less professional groups of Tinder and Tumblr. These sites didn’t have much, if any, of my personal information, and not many people would find them. Those that did wouldn’t treat them very seriously. I was freer on these platforms and was less restrictive with what I did because it was less likely to get traced back to me.
On these less professional sites is where I had a disconnect over social media and real life. Because I didn’t put much information out there, I had a sense of security: I can do what I want with little chance of it coming back to me.
But that’s not actually true.
You really can’t be anonymous on the Internet. Regardless of how little information you put out there, people can still figure out who you are.
And I will inevitably have to pass those 400-some people on campus.