By: Hillel Fuld
This post is somewhat of a rant. As a person who pretty much lives on the Web, I am very exposed to the power of social media. Having said that, I think by now, that topic is pretty much covered from all angles. What is not covered and what people like to brush under the carpet, are the potential down sides and even outright dangers accompanied by the advancements that social media bring.
When people ask me why I like Twitter so much, I like to sum it up in one sentence. Twitter pretty much brings down all the barriers that society puts up. What I mean by that is that our world, at least the social aspect of it, is structured in a hierarchical fashion. There are famous people, who are “above” the “regular” people of our society. What do I mean above? Don’t misunderstand. I am in no way implying that just because you are famous, you are in any way better than a person who is not. I am talking specifically about the accessibility of certain parts of the population to other parts. Whether it is the rich and the poor, the famous and the “regular people”, and many other examples. On Twitter, all those boundaries come down.
I have met many people on Twitter who are by all standards “celebrities of the Web”. In real life, these people are plain old teenagers, clerks in a local super market, and many other types of regular old folks. In addition, on Twitter and social media in general, you have direct access to pretty much anyone. You can write to your favorite celebrity, athlete, or politician, and chances are (with the exception of some), they will see it.
So, where are the down sides? Well, I will be the first to admit that social media brings more good than bad, but there are definitely some negative aspects of the complete democratization brought upon by sites like Twitter and Facebook. Here are a few:
- Hot Air: This point was the reason for the post. I am seeing more and more people, who have no expertise in a certain industry, selling themselves as if they do. If you know me or have read any of my posts on social media, you know the word “expert” gives me the Heebie– jeebies (I love that there is a Wikipedia entry for that). However, the only thing worse than a person who knows one or two things about a topic calling themselves an expert, is a person who knows nothing, yet calls himself an expert.Unfortunately, social media and the Web provide all the tools necessary to sell yourself as something you are not, and this is a real danger. With social media and a semi designed website, you can sell pretty much whatever you want, assuming you put some effort into it. The problem is, when people add to the hype of social media, they are in essence facilitating this crime of people selling hot air.
- Impersonation: To be honest, when thinking about the down sides of social media, this one did not come to mind. However, it was somewhat of a consensus among my followers, so I decided to include it. Many people use Twitter and other social media platforms to impersonate others. I guess this is just taking the first point of selling hot air, to the next level.I mean, if I am already going to pretend I am a master of marketing, why not just call myself Steve Jobs? Now, I am not famous enough to have experienced this personally, but I guess a simple search for Alyssa Milano on Facebook will show you how severe this issue is.
- Permanent Marker: So I have good news and bad news. The good news is social media is creating a whole lot of new jobs, and that is good for the economy. The bad news is, those jobs are in industries we did not need before the era of social media. Reputation Management is one such example. With social networks, and the Web becoming more social in general, the young generation might not realize the consequences of their social media activity. Right now, when someone tweets something a little too personal, we all laugh it off with a simple TMI response.However, down the line, when that person is applying to college or their first job in the corporate world, that tweet or Facebook update, which will appear in Google, might cause them some serious harm. There are companies and industries that focus exclusively on controlling the damage people cause themselves on the social Web. I am not even going to talk about the fact that with a decent following, some basic knowledge of SEO, and a total lack of humanity, you can literally ruin a person in one hour’s work.
- Stalking: While we have all heard a joke or two about stalking on social media, the truth is, this is no laughing matter. I know of many people that have experienced some seriously disturbing stories on social media. I just learned today of an old friend who closed her Facebook account after someone “rubbed her the wrong way”. For the people interested in stalking someone, it just got a whole lot easier.Of course, a good way to avoid this is by maintaining some level of privacy or at least monitoring the information you share publicly. Hint: Don’t update Facebook and tell the world you are leaving your house unoccupied for the next week. Again, this is not a joke, I have heard one too many stories.
- Productivity: Sorry folks, it had to be said. Social media, putting aside the small minority of people that work in the field, can cause a major decrease in productivity. Sites like Twitter and Facebook can become addictive fast, and since many of us work on the Web, it is also very easy to justify wasting time on these sites. I have seen many creative solutions to this problem. Facebook apps that notify you when you are on the site for more than a few minutes, and Twitter applications that show you how often you tweet.Right now, we all like to joke about social media addiction, but the fact of the matter is, it can become a serious problem, especially in the work force. It is for this reason many companies block sites like Twitter and Facebook, although I am not sure that is a great solution either.
In conclusion, social media, like many things in life, can be a great thing if used in moderation. If, however, you believe and sell all the hype, you are opening the door to some of the above issues, and you might not feel the effects immediately, but eventually, they will come back and haunt you.
There are many other down sides to social media that are not mentioned here. Problems like obsessive self promotion, the redefinition of the term “friend”, and many others. Tell me what you got in the comments. You can also find me on Twitter at @hilzfuld.