Thanks to technology and the Internet, the world is becoming increasingly transparent and accessible. Social media is playing an important role in this transformation. So far, most people seem to be responding to the power of social media favorably, and they’re using the power of social media for good. However, there is a risk that the pendulum could shift in the other direction over time. Below are the “5 Deadly Sins” of social media – pitfalls that proponents of social media should watch out for and proactively advocate against:
- Market saturation: There is a proliferation of social networking sites available – lots of sites are competing for users time. Marketers are creating new social networking sites in record numbers to promote their products, and the number of traditional social networking sites (MySpace, YouTube, Bebo, Gather, WAYN, CyWorld, etc.) are also growing. Users often use different for the same purpose but to meet different people. If the market becomes overly fragmented, it may become less useful and more burdensome to user. I hope that a natural market consolidation will happen eventually, but in the meantime, the industry runs the risk of users “burning out” from having to juggle too many different websites, on-line “friends”, different profile inputting tools, and passwords.
- Exploitation of social media at the expense of others: Social media makes it easier than ever to share information on-line. While, the power of information sharing is good, it can also be dangerous in the wrong hands, enabling: fraud, misrepresentation of identity, identity theft, sexual exploitation, and unethical sharing of corporate or government secrets. I just read an interesting article on the security risk that social media presents to corporations. The same is true for governments and individuals. The “Star Wars Kid” and Paris Hilton were two of the first people to learn a thing or two about that.
- Eradication of privacy: This one is closely linked to the bullet point above on exploitation, but I felt it deserved its own section because it goes beyond exploitation because what is considered private to one person, isn’t necessarily considered private to another. The Washingtonienne case is a good example of this. Another example is that anyone can get an aerial photograph of your house at Google Maps or go to Zillow to find out what your house is worth. Add location based social media services and mobile phones into the mix, and tracking people’s location becomes easy via services like Helio’s Buddy Beacon and Dodgeball. While these are great services and they offer opt-in privacy, it’s scary to think what could happen if either service were hacked. Alternatively, imagine the damage that would result if someone’s location information got into the wrong hands or was commandeered by a “friend” turned stalker.
- Opportunistic litigation: Lawsuits like those filed earlier this week against News Corp. pose a strong threat to the health of social media. If cases like these succeed, the rulings will send a dangerous message to the public: “You’re not responsible for your own safety or the safety of your children. Someone else is.” Unjustified lawsuits also stifle technical innovation and have the potential to strangle social media with excessive amounts of red tape.
- Opaque Marketing: Marketers are becoming more sophisticated about the ways that they use social media to their advantage. It is already difficult to avoid pop-ups and other advertisements on-line. And, with some social media sites, it difficult to tell what is advertising versus what is genuine, unbiased opinion. Take, for example, bloggers who get paid by companies to evangelize products (I don’t, but a lot do). Advertising on social media sites isn’t nearly as transparent as it should be, and social media runs the risk of being tarnished by overzealous marketers.
1/22/07 UPDATE: Thanks everyone for your insightful comments. I just read a great article by Mark Zielinski, a UK-based security engineer. The article talks about the threat that social media poses to corporate security. In the article, Mark talks about how employees use their work computers to check their social networking pages and that this poses a threat to corporate networks. Unsurprisingly, employees checking social media sites rather than doing work probably, has an impact on productivity – even more so than personal email. With these two points in mind, I’d like to add “Bringing Down the Corporation” as the 6th deadly sin of Social Media.