Is Social Media Good For Us?

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the need for online responsibility

By: Shaun L. Turriff

Social media, best known through the success of Twitter and Facebook, has changed the way people interact with both the internet and each other.

However, the success of social media and its continued growth mean that along with new possibilities come new potential pitfalls. Simply put, social media entities are, at the root of it, companies. They are businesses, and as such, they operate with different goals in mind than their users might sometimes think.

LinkedIn’s IPO success story, France’s ban on references to Twitter and Facebook on TV News programs, Twitter’s implication in a UK libel and a UK privacy suit, and concern over posting electoral results on social networks in the Canadian federal election all point to a set of growing set of concerns centered around social media.

Commenting on the potential downsides of social media, Allie Townsend of Techland notes, “Laws on Internet activity and speech are just beginning to manifest in court, and nine times out of ten, companies will comply with authorities”. Yes, this means handing over your account’s info.

This is the case in Tennessee, where a spate of new laws are attempting to rein in the internet, including one law concerning offensive images. These laws have been meet with cries of “unconstitutional”.

“Some rulings have required Facebook to turn over user password information; other courts have thrown out similar requests. It’s all the more reason to consider what you post online fair game inside our legal system,” Townsend writes.

Furthermore, Twitter has turned over user data in a UK libel suit, under a court order. Townsend notes, however, that “Facebook seems to take the brunt of the backlash because of its size, but that hasn’t changed our silly new idea that all of these companies have our best interests in mind. They don’t. They’re businesses. They want our personal information to dangle in front of advertisers.” Even the friends-only setting on Facebook is no guarantee of privacy, as court orders have also authorized the sharing of this information in court cases.

Businesses need to be aware of these potential pitfalls as well, especially when using social media as a marketing tool, a practice that is becoming increasingly widespread. Steve McKee notes in Bloomberg Buisnessweek: “The new catchphrase in the digital marketing world is ‘what happens in public stays in public.’ Inappropriate humor, misplaced political opinions, name-calling, over-promising, critical posts (you name it) can all reverberate far wider and longer than you intend.”

Social networking is not inherently evil, nor are the social media websites or businesses like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, that provide the services that make social media possible. Businesses and individuals all use social media to improve their lives. Social media is arguably good for us, but it ultimately remains a tool, one that needs to be used, like all good tools, safely, and within a proper context.

Feature image courtesy of owenwbrown
Banner image courtesy of A Name Like Shields

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