Sometimes I want to send a message to a Facebook friend and remind him or her to think of it as a bulletin board instead of their intimate diary.
While transparency generally counts as a positive online, sometimes users get too personal and share far more than they should.
Personal information posted on Facebook is now routinely cited as a cause of divorce and is said to be responsible for one out of every five online divorce petitions filed.
Employers now routinely check Facebook and Twitter as part of the screening stage during the hiring process.
Social media connects people in powerful ways, but it also fuels big data as the low-hanging informational fruit for insurance companies that might want wiggle room to deny coverage or government powers who seek to categorize the population into groups according to affiliations and attitudes.
Satirical website The Onion produced a fake newscast where pundits deemed Facebook a “massive online surveillance program run by the CIA.”
The same Onion bit quoted “testimony” from a deputy CIA director:
“After years of secretly monitoring the public, we were astounded so many people would willingly publicize where they live, their religious and political views, an alphabetized list of all their friends, personal emails addresses, phone numbers, hundreds of photos of themselves, and even status updates about what they were doing moment to moment. It is truly a dream come true for the CIA.”
Charlie Munger, when asked in May 2012 about whether investment company Berkshire Hathaway would buy shares in Facebook as it went public, said:
“I don’t want people putting all this personal stuff into a permanent record when they are 15 years of age. I think it’s counterproductive. I don’t invest in what I don’t understand. And I don’t want to understand Facebook.”
Sometimes the over-sharing is nothing particularly damaging, except when it comes to how others perceive us. Eligible bachelors take note for future reference whenever a lady takes out her anger toward her boyfriend or, even worse, turns on a pity party of scorched earth revelations during a breakup.
We detect when a person stirs up unnecessary drama in order to become the center of attention. The act of freely giving away our personal information to people we barely know is inherently narcissistic.
I advise my friends to:
- Do a Google search of their name to see what results are generated,
- Set privacy controls on social networks to manage what other people can find out about them,
- Use an alias when in doubt, and
- Pro-actively seed the web with positive information about themselves on a blog such as this one (following search engine optimization practices) to push anything that might seem less favorable back to the second or third page of search results.
- They should set privacy controls on websites so others cannot tag them in photos or other posts without their explicit approval. Anything that is questionable should be removed.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how careful you are, as in the case of sharing the same name as someone who is less protective of their information. A simple search reveals nearly a dozen people in the United States who share my own name.
There’s also the risk of having an unclear message misinterpreted. One of my readings this week quoted blogger Seth Godin as saying,
“If you’ve got 140 characters to make your point, the odds are you are going to be misunderstood (a lot).”
Three Kent State University undergraduates created an app called SimpleWash to scan a Facebook profile for any vulgar or embarrassing terms, while a website called TwitWipe bulk deletes Tweets.
When used wisely, social media can be a powerful tool for marketing and persuasion, but even that is not as simple as it used to be.
Facebook, in an effort to monetize the service, has begun segregating content in such a way that users must now pay a fee to “promote” their updates to the entirety of their friends.
This is the equivalent of someone giving you a free house with a spectacular view of the ocean and then coming back months later to start charging you a fee to look out that window.
These social networks must walk a careful balance between trying to make a profit and alienating users who can easily migrate elsewhere. For now, the prevailing mood appears to be an uncomfortable acceptance of a necessary evil, the same way we endure TV commercials to get “free” programming.
The TED Talk by Johanna Blakley points to an upside to all of this data being collected – media and advertising companies will increasingly pitch us things based on what we actually like rather than presumptions of what we like based on demographic segmentation.
One of the most striking things about social networking is how complex people can be, as Blakley points out in her video. Someone may share a common interest in Auburn football, for example, and yet differ greatly from me on attitudes and beliefs concerning politics or religion, so we are on the same page in disagreeing with criticism of our football squads, but deeply at odds when discussing headlines out of Washington D.C.
I find myself frequently catering specific messages to particular lists of friends, which can be time-consuming and carries the risk of alienating others if I’ve inaccurately categorized where they belong. I’m often left wishing it were easier to reduce my huge circle of online friends in bulk, leaving only those core users who share my attitudes and are not easily offended. Of course, it isn’t in Facebook’s interest to give me an easy out to cast away thousands of my contacts who I may regret adding.
One positive aspect of diversity of views among social users is exposure to viewpoints I would likely not otherwise encounter. Generally speaking, we tend to seek out posts that reinforce our beliefs and dismiss those which contrast. Spirited debates in comment threads can change minds if participants keep an open mind, but more often than not we seem to simply yell over one another repeating talking points we’ve heard expressed by pundits.
The overarching concern, then, seems to be balancing what information we share so that we present ourselves as communicators with measured transparency and common sense. In other words, let’s be real, but let’s not behave in such an awkward way that people question our judgment, our sobriety or our emotional stability.
I found that my Twitter following grew tremendously when I opened up about my struggles with being a single dad of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. Was it dumb to share this with strangers? Some would say so, but the net effect was an outpouring of compassion and followers in a similar situation coming forward. Prior to that, I’d just been another photographer holding up a sign saying, “Hire me.” But I suddenly put a human face on my online presence.
Ultimately, I’m of a mind that social networking offers more pros than cons.
I witnessed the healing power of social connection this week when I spent time with my good friend who is shaken to her core by the diagnosis that her cancer has spread beyond a tumor in her breast despite a mastectomy. Her fear turned to resolve with a smile as hundreds of people in her life sent wishes and pledges of prayer.
As news spread on December 14 about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which 26 children were massacred, I noticed Facebook became a place for people to express their fears and seek social support, a giant water-cooler where the larger community could talk it out and make sense of the tragedy, then divide into ideological camps on the issue of gun control.
I’m not suggesting we should all join social networks and go on indiscriminately broadcasting each one of our opinions, our politics, and our problems, but we should interact and listen rather than treating social media channels like traditional media channels where we blast the same commercial message endlessly without regard to the feedback loop inherent in two-way communications.
To quote an article in Business Insider that I read this week,
“Because people are at the core of a social business, relationships come front and center and all relationships are built on trust. People want to buy from sellers who act more like friends. They want to call someone in product support who really cares about them and wants to help them.”
To put it another way, borrowing a phrase from an info graphic called “The 36 Rules of Social Media”: “People would rather talk to ‘Comcast Melissa’ than ‘Comcast’.”
And Missy, whether her “business” is cable TV service or just selling others on the illusion of how good her life is, needs to be reasonably judicious in the content she distributes.