'Self-destructing' Snapchat and Facebook Poke messages can actually be copied, but that shouldn't be a surprise. Protect yourself.

The current kerfuffle over Snapchat and Facebook's 'self-destructing' videos actually being saveable is a great thing to see, because it reminds people of why they should never sext unless they want their junk splattered all over whatever site the porn impresario and professional jerk Hunter Moore is running this week.
Repeat after me: Anything you put on the Internet is potentially public.
P.S. Cell phones count as the Internet.
This is pretty much a fixed rule. Digital data can be copied. If it's only on your own computer, you have control of it. But as soon as it's shared with anyone — anyone — that person can copy and spread it.
Or, as the always witty Chris Davies said on Twitter, "Keep putting your genitals in front of people & they'll inevitably go viral."
Oh, Those TeenagersTeenagers overlook this because teenagers are actually clinically brain damaged. They're biologically programmed to ignore risk and act on emotion. So I can excuse 15-year-olds who sext their boyfriends. It's a horrified, facepalming excuse, but forgive them, for they know not what they do.
(Teenagers, I'm speaking from personal experience here as someone who spent ages 13 to 16 screaming, crying, thrilled, miserable, in love, in love, in love, out of love, hopeful, and always passionate about something.)
Thus: Snapchat! Right? You can send photos, whether sexy or just embarrassing, without fear that they'll be shared and copied. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrongity wrong. If it's digital, it's copyable. Maybe you trust the person you're sending an image to. But do you trust everyone they trust? And will you trust them forever?
Here's a lesson I learned the painful way—even if you can't conceive of how digital data could be copied and spread, it can be. I spent my own teenage years saying embarrassingly emotional things on the Internet, because at the time, it looked like Usenet was ephemeral. Not true! Years after the fact, Google scooped up an archive that I didn't even know existed and made it all searchable.
There are also embarrassing videos of me at age eight on YouTube. When I was eight, you couldn't even put a video onto a home computer. Media spreads in ways we can't imagine at the time.
Online Privacy Isn't RealAnd yet Internet companies conspire to make us think that online privacy is a real thing. Even the online elite get sucked into this. Look at the mess around Randi Zuckerberg's family holiday photo, which got seen by a friend of a friend because of Facebook'sincomprehensible privacy settings and then duplicated on Twitter.
I've got a lot of schadenfreude over that one, but there's also some pity: Zuckerberg was lulled by her own propaganda into thinking she could control the spread of information on the Net. She can't. Nobody can.
I have to give big props to the colleges which are starting to give away "reputation defender" services to their graduating seniors, helping them clean up their online profiles. Maybe nothing can ever be deleted or protected from a determined enemy, but there's a basic level of security-through-obscurity that's adequate for most day-to-day uses.
There's also a certain mutually-assured-destruction aspect to the fact that when we get to the point where everybody has embarrassing things on the Internet, then people will probably be less judgemental when others have embarrassing things on the Internet. Glass houses, y'know.
But even then, I'll still draw the line at keeping your clothes on.
There's a Solution, Of CourseThere's no need to get all prudish, as there's a solution that people have been enjoying for thousands of years—if you're going to do something embarrassing or get naked, do it in person. If you can't say something in person, make a phone call. Yeah, sure, people can record phone calls, but it's a pain, and you really feel like a spy when you're doing it.
Anything involving images or videos can be duplicated way too easily, so if you ever have a temptation to take a naked picture of yourself, just imagine everyone you know receiving it; there's a decent chance it could happen. (At best, crop your head out of the photo. As weird and objectifying as that might seem, at least it gives you plausible deniability.)
So what about Snapchat and Poke? They're cute gimmicks. But as long as someone can snap a cell phone pic of a screen, they don't offer the supposed privacy that they say they do. Treat them with the same skepticism you would with any slick player who promises that "this photo is only for me, baby" —in other words, a lot.


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