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Tech Hoarding: Surprising Statistics and Serious Consequences

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Tech Hoarding

Social media platforms are no longer novelties: beginning in the mid-2000s, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have demonstrated real staying power.

As these networks have evolved to remain relevant, so have the tastes and tendencies of their users.

Would You Delete Old Online Content?

Yet, in a digital world where everything is recorded, longevity can be a liability. How many of us cringe at past posts or pictures, knowing they’re a poor reflection of our present selves?

The simplest solution could be deleting old and unflattering content, and some experts recommend doing so.

But are you really willing to part ways with this treasure trove of words and images? Would you remove potentially embarrassing content from social media, but keep a copy on your computer or phone?

We asked 947 individuals about the ways they hoard or expunge digital content, both on social media and their own devices. Our findings reveal what worries them most about their digital histories, the measures they take to avoid embarrassment, and the sentiments behind their decisions.

How does your approach to digital hoarding compare to that of the average user? Keep reading to find out.

Hoarding Habits

Our digital hoarding

A significant percentage of our respondents reported they never delete digital content — on either their public social media accounts or their own devices. Indeed, 4 in 5 respondents said they never remove old posts, videos, or photos from social media.

This could reflect the difficulty of purging old content: on Twitter and Facebook, for example, it can be difficult to delete posts in large batches without using external applications. Yet, given a recent string of celebrity scandals related to offensive social media content, one might expect more users to edit regularly.

Furthermore, a majority of users admitted they had not deactivated the social media accounts they no longer use. Of those who formerly used Myspace, for example, more than two-thirds had never officially closed their profiles. While it is possible to delete your Myspace account even if you’ve lost your login credentials, the multistep process may strike many as too arduous.

Those who did delete old images and videos typically purged content from social media before removing it from their devices. But most respondents said they never delete photos or videos from their devices.

Perhaps affordable cloud storage options make this hoarding possible: with terabytes of memory available at low costs, you don’t need to be stingy about space on your smartphone.

Memories, Apathy, and Other Hoarding Motives

Why do we hoard?

Why do people cling to old content? When asked why they hoard digital material on their own devices, nearly three-quarters of respondents said they were reluctant to delete memories. This finding highlights an interesting aspect of our digital era: we increasingly associate memory with digital artifacts, rather than our recollections.

Additionally, 71% said they keep content on their devices for record-keeping purposes. After all, digital documentation can feature prominently in future disputes — you may not necessarily know when these “receipts” will come in handy.

As far as hoarding content on social media, most respondents also cited their wish to hold onto memories. But 55% of respondents said they hadn’t considered deleting old posts or pictures. Similarly, 54% felt the data on their social media wasn’t particularly sensitive and, thus, did not require deletion.

Perhaps many of these people are consistently thinking about social media content, creating truly innocuous digital footprints. Yet, we may not always understand how our past posts can embarrass or offend.

If public figures and major corporations can stumble into social media snafus, can we trust our instincts about the way our posts will be perceived?

Problems With Past Content

How Digital Hoarding Can Affect Our Lives

Many respondents expressed concerns that their online content could be held against them — and 10% said they’d had this happen in the past. This worry was relatively constant among professional, governmental, and romantic situations.

Yet 22% of respondents in hiring positions reported they had decided not to hire someone based on their social media content.

In these instances, photos and text posts were the most common forms of problematic content. On the other hand, having no online profile at all could deter prospective employers hoping to confirm your credentials, so a polished social media presence is likely the best approach.

Interestingly, however, conflicts involving social media content may be more common outside of the professional domain. Respondents who had their social media content used against them were most likely to say that friends or a significant other brought it up with them.

Of course, there’s a wide spectrum of such behaviors, ranging from good-natured teasing to bullying and even blackmail.

Protection and Privacy

Top Methods for Keeping Online Content Safe

Most people took a proactive approach to protect themselves online, with 77% saying they were cautious about what they uploaded to online platforms. Interestingly, Baby Boomers were most likely to report exercising such caution, despite some research suggesting that young Americans are more wary of the internet’s dangers.

Additionally, 70% of individuals said they only allow friends and family to view their accounts. In recent years, Facebook has introduced a series of nuanced privacy controls, allowing users to limit who can see past and future posts. Twitter operates on a more straightforward basis, allowing users to make their tweets “public” or “protected” (visible only to followers).

Twenty-six percent said they blocked people who tried to save content they had uploaded. Snapchat, for example, can notify users when someone has taken a screenshot of their content, allowing you to decide whether to block them moving forward.

On Facebook, however, anyone who can see your photos can also download them, and you might not know when someone has saved an image you’ve posted.

Millennials and Gen Xers were far more likely than Baby Boomers to block people who had tried to save their social media content, suggesting that older users may not be attuned to this risk.

Prudence vs Paranoia: Finding a Middle Ground

Our findings illustrate widespread unease about the quantity of digital content stored on our devices and social media. Having utilized these technologies for some time, many of us fear that old errors in judgment may come back to haunt us.

Yet, this project also proves how much we cherish the enduring record that our devices and social media provide. If we wish to record warm memories, we may also need to reckon with some regrets.

As our respondents clearly demonstrate, it is possible to adopt a thoughtful and balanced approach to your digital footprint. There are many ways to cleanse and curate your content without swearing off social media entirely.

We hope you’ll review the tactics presented in this study and consider whether they might work for you. Take a considered approach to your online presence, and you can worry less about offending or making the wrong impression.

At WhoIsHostingThis.com, we help all kinds of organizations take a thoughtful and effective approach to operating their websites. Just as old content can taint your social media presence, poor site performance can spoil users’ impression of your business.

Check out our expert reviews and guides and see how we can help you get up to speed.

Methodology and Limitations

For this survey, we used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform to survey 947 people about their technology use. Everyone was eligible to take the survey, but those who failed an attention-check question that was located roughly halfway through the survey were disqualified and had their responses up to that point excluded.

Demographic Information

Gender

  • Men: 431
  • Women: 511
  • Other: 5

Generation

  • Greatest Generation (Born before 1928): 1
  • Silent Generation (Born 1928 to 1945): 5
  • Baby Boomer (Born 1946 to 1964): 117
  • Generation X (Born 1965 to 1980): 254
  • Millennial (Born 1981 to 1997): 541
  • Generation Z (Born after 1998): 29

Social Media

  • Public account holders: 294
  • Private account holders: 653

Limitations

The conclusions we came to in this survey are based on self-reported data. This sort of data has inherent limitations, including but not limited to exaggeration and selective memory.

Share Our Work

Do you have friends or loved ones who should really consider cleaning up their social media? Feel free to share this project with them or any other readers who might take an interest in our results. Please link back to this page whenever you share our content to fairly attribute our team.

Frank Moraes

About Frank Moraes

Frank has worked in the tech industry since the early 1990s — as a writer, programmer, and manager. He’s an insatiable blogger and “Don Quixote” fanatic. In his spare time, Frank writes experimental plays — usually involving puppets like Grumpy Squirrel in his image.

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