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Tagged and Bagged - The Increasing Danger of Tagging in Social Media

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The most unsettling thing about Facebook (and this is coming from someone who uses it more than any other platform) is that it's always so intent on knowing where you are, what you're doing, and what you look like while you're doing it. Like so many other social media tropes, it was the progenitor of tagging, and it continues to cling to the feature like a starved eagle to a struggling rabbit, constantly seeking out new ways to advance and revolutionise it beyond its basic origins.

To some, it's just an accepted part of the service, to others it's a necessity to proper photo sharing, to many it's an unnecessary annoyance and to certain people, it's downright dangerous. A recent court ruling found New York resident Maria Gonzalez guilty of violating her restraining order against her sister-in-law, Maribel Calderon, when she tagged her in a series of status updates on Facebook. Said updates were anything but innocuous, in fact they were distinctly aggressive, if not threatening. Regardless, the judge saw them as reason enough to hand Gonzalez a charge for second degree criminal contempt, for which she could well end up seeing a short term prison sentence.

You might argue that such a charge is excessive for a few mildly aggressive tagged status updates (sources suggest that the worst barbs she used were 'stupid', and 'sad'), but it highlights a far wider issue, how easy it is to publicly threaten and/or abuse people on social media, and make sure that everyone around them is aware of it. Obviously such actions usually violate terms of use, but reporting takes time and a disturbing amount of emotional damage can be inflicted before the offending post is actually removed. Or worse.

It's one thing to tag someone in an insulting status update, or to spread lies about them that might drive others to anger, or even result in total alienation, but what if that person is in hiding, for their own safety? Increasingly, Facebook have been looking into auto-tagging features for pictures, which would mean that any time a photo of your face surfaced on the platform, Facebook would tag it on your behalf. For certain people, such as those in witness protection, this is a potentially life threatening notion. A name can quickly be tied to a location, and if somebody out there is minded to track a person down and do them harm, that's all the information they need.

Facebook would probably argue that all the tagging functionality they offer is optional, but everyone knows it's not that simple. Profile deletion is still far from an easy task and a lot of Facebook and Instagram's privacy features are riddled with loopholes. Simply put, it doesn't take anywhere near as much effort as it should to track people down.

I've personally known people who have been victimised by stalkers on Facebook and elsewhere, one in particular whose pursuer dredged up pictures of her on nights out and reposted them, claiming that she had been on drugs, he was often able to find out when and where she had been out shortly after the fact and tagged her to make sure she knew. Even after she blocked him, and changed addresses he was able to figure out where she was. He continued to do this on Twitter and Instagram for years, switching accounts to keep his scent covered before the police finally tracked him through his IP address.

Simply put, advancement in social media technology should always be developed with responsibility taken into account. There should always be a way to opt out of specific features before they come into effect, not after. If people want to remain untagged online, or avoid their real names or appearing in images, that's their right, and they should be able to use Facebook and other platforms to their full extent regardless.



Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF


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Tagged and Bagged - The Increasing Danger of Tagging in Social Media Reviewed by Callum Davies on Friday, January 22, 2016 Rating: 5

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