Trust in the Information Age

Trust, but verify.~Ronald Reagan

In this age of instant “friendships” and split-second communication, it all to easy to find yourself questioning decisions. A handshake used to be enough to seal the deal, mainly because you had spent enough time with someone to know they weren’t selling you oceanfront property in Iowa. Now, I have an elderly women, supposedly dying from cancer, who wants to give me millions if I would just be so kind as to provide my banking information.

I found out today that a certain social media platform is sending out “friend” requests on my behalf to people I don’t know. Well, I do sort of know them as they are “friends” of “friends.” But, I didn’t make these requests and now I have messages asking me who I am and what do I want. I think it’s great these people are skeptical enough to send me a message before confirming the request and I hope everyone affected does, because it sure would be weird to have these people start showing up in my news feed. It would also be time-consuming to check my “friends” list every day to make sure nothing has changed without my permission.

So how do we develop trust when we don’t meet people in person? How do we know what information is “safe” to disclose and what we should hold back? At what point can we determine if a “friend” is trustworthy? I’ve seen so much in the last 4 years that probably ought not to have been posted in public. No, I’m not talking about the Miley Cyrus incident, although that certainly qualifies.

The Declaration of Independence uses the words “we hold these truths to be self-evident” to describe basic human rights. I believe many people think their personal lives fall under those very same words. We are supposed to believe that no one stretches the truth, that everyone is the person they claim to be and that every story told is true. Another old saying pops in to my head…”caveat emptor” or buyer beware.

Trust takes time, much more than a few exchanges via email. Even after you have decided to trust a “friend,” you may still find deceit and heartache down the road. Like relationships in real life, online relationships are fraught with pitfalls. In some ways, they are like dominoes. One person disagrees with you and suddenly you find yourself either a target of online attacks (much like schoolyard bullying) or massive “unfriending.” I have been left wondering what I did to someone to be “unfriended” only to discover that it’s because I’m “friends” with someone else. Seriously, it reminds me of the days of nanabooboo on the playground.

I suggest that we all take a step back and consider what trust means to us. I trust that my phone bill will show up every month. I trust that there really are only two certain things in life…death and taxes. I trust some people more than others, either because they have earned my trust through walking the talk or because they appear to be inherently “good” people. You won’t find me posting every little detail of my life on any social media platform. If I did, I’m sure the Nigerian official looking to move money out of his crumbling economy would want to speak with me.

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