Social media connects our society in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. You can literally stay connected to friends, family, and perfect strangers around the world, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It’s incredible that we live in a time when people have so much access to information at such a low cost. But, with great power comes great responsibility, and I’ve been thinking about some of the unfortunate side effects of this connectivity.
Social media has a lot of positive aspects for marketers and society at large. We can use it to improve our bottom line via data mining, “engaging in conversation”, and monitoring and measuring the buzz about our brand in the market place. Facebook marketers are working to use information on your profile to display ads tailored specifically for you. The informal days of Gallup Polls are becoming obsolete, since we can just check out the hashtags on Twitter for a quick read on the pulse of politics. You’ve got several social media platforms influencing human rights around the world. In short, we’re connected, informed, and using the vast network to our advantage, and I believe that’s largely a good thing.
However, what happens when our lives online pose risks to our lives in real life? How bad can it get when our most private selves are “outed” online, and our deepest fears realized after “help” from social media? For example, this woman’s attacker showed up on her doorstep… several times. The author questions whether he found her via a profile on Spokeo, a site that aggregates all your online data into an easily accessible profile (note that she states this information is not available online, but the premise of the site is that it uses information from the internet). What happens when governments punish those who criticize them on social media platforms? At what point do we question whether everyone knowing our every move is healthy? What about cyber bullying (the many cases of teen suicide reported as a result of Facebook posts), streaming illicit content to thousands of people (the case of suicide and reputations ruined after being unknowingly taped during a compromising situation), or tweeting unfounded complaints to a million followers (threatening business to give in to your demands or suffer the consequences of a blow to their brand).
Then there’s the ugly, literally. This Forbes article talks about girls posting videos on YouTube to ask if they are fat, ugly, or pretty. Have we really turned into a society that forces us to seek validation from perfect strangers? Do our youth have such low self-esteem that they must take to social media to connect with their “friends”? Is a high Klout score really all there is to achieve in life? There are real concerns that people becoming so obsessed with connecting online, that they’re forgoing or harming connections in real life.
I think all of the benefits and concerns about social media need to be addressed, and I think it’s fascinating how quickly and completely social media has altered our relationships, both professional and personal. How do we go about making laws, relationships, and business plans with all the complex issues that connectivity brings to light? How do we continue to ensure that our progress is doing more good than harm?