The Benevolence of Social Media – NOT!


June 2nd, 2011

I attended a webinar today entitled “The value (or not) of social media”, and the speaker, Mark Phillips, made an interesting point. Well, he made lots of interesting points, but this one in particular stood out to me. He said that all these social media sites are not for the public good. Facebook, Twitter, Google, these are all sites run by private companies. While they might have altruistic notions (Google, most notably), they also all have – and must have if they want to survive – a profit motive.

Who's really seeing what you're sharing?

Many of the Facebook privacy issues we’ve heard about the last few years stem from their desire to get us to share as much information as possible. By sharing and being involved in the site, we allow them to collect more data about us, show us more ads, and follow us to other places on the web. Google, in the interest of helping us connect when they launched their now-defunct Buzz, thought automatically sharing our info was a good thing. Many social media sites use targeted ads as a way to make money. Courts have tried to get Google and others to turn over user data.

Am I saying we shouldn’t use social media and the Internet? Heck no. I’m on Facebook every day, I help other people and businesses use Facebook, I use Twitter, heaven knows I’m on Google nearly every hour for one thing or another.

I am saying that we need to be conscious of what we’re sharing and searching for. We need to be aware of our privacy settings. We need to not assume that whatever we post is as private as we set it to be. Sites get hacked, policies get rewritten, accounts are compromised. Heck, I had to cancel a credit card once because a disgruntled employee made off with his company’s computer that had customers’ financial info on it.

I can’t remember who it was, but someone said that we shouldn’t post anything on Facebook that we’re not comfortable wearing on a T-shirt (and if you know who said that, please contact me and I’ll add the source). The speaker today said he wouldn’t put anything in writing that he didn’t want recorded in the Library of Congress (that included email). While true on one level, since emails can be logged and subject to court orders, it’s also impractical in our wired world.

Do I want you to stop using social media? No. We’re a society of sharers, and technology facilitates our connections with friends and family. Life is about managing risk and living anyway. My goal with this post is to get you thinking about what you share, with who, and if you’re okay with that.

I’m okay with whatever your comfort level happens to be.

I just want that level to be because you’ve thought about it… and not because it’s the default setting on a social media website.

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