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Social media seem to be taking over the world. There’s the slam book called Twitter, where you can destroy someone’s reputation with a short burst, and Facebook, where it seems anything can get to you, one way or another. I have social media concerns for several reasons, which keep me off some of these platforms altogether.
Social media aren’t all evil
First, let me say that what I don’t know about social media is huge. But I do know that many people use these outlets for legitimate reasons. Pinterest is sometimes called a social medium though it really isn’t that so much. It’s a picture search engine type thing. I play in it and put my blog’s pins in it, and much of my traffic comes from Pinterest referrals.
I know next to nothing about Instagram but friends use it to learn about knitting, and fashionistas love it because their interest is very visual. So it certainly is useful to a lot of people. YouTube has taught me a few things, though I usually do better with a text-based lesson. And YouTube movies have entertained me many evenings. So as a video service it’s terrific in my book. I just don’t follow anyone yet.
Plenty of people say they follow their extended families around on Facebook, especially when some are far away, and that seems a benign enough use for it. Businesses go on Facebook to be liked, remembered and visited. Interest groups meet on Facebook to share information too. There’s a lot to like.
Even Linked-In is social media, with a career-building slant. I don’t know of another social media outlet that connects far-flung people as easily as Linked-In. Someone suggested that I try it out, which brings me to…
My first social media concern.
Way back, years ago, a client wanted to sign up for Facebook. She was absolutely sure about doing it, just not about how to do things on a computer. So I sat with her and had her follow the prompts, knowing nothing better to do myself.
Right away Facebook asked about where and when she went to high school and who she emails with. While we sat there, Facebook mined her life and sent messages all over to people to let them know she was signing up and encouraging them to do it too. I got creeped out right there.
I graduated with 650 or so others at my high school. Out of those I knew about 40 and liked about 4. The rest don’t need to know where I am and what I’m doing to the level of detail possible on social media. There are plenty of others in my life I don’t need catching up on my current circumstances.
By the way, Linked-In did the same data mining on my email and I had a lot of explaining to do with the ladies in my service club! A couple were already Linked-In members and very understanding of the Linked-In practices, but others were bothered so I told them to unsubscribe that stuff and not worry about it. My husband, however, is still unsubscribing periodically to no avail.
As my client progressed on Facebook, I also saw that she was bombarded with cute messages and memes. Those are fun things, but so are some ads, and they do carry subtext. After sitting with my client for a while I could see these things starting to form an information bubble, reinforcing the beliefs of the people in her stream, and by extension, her. Sometimes they scared her and we would have to do a reality check to see if the threats were real.
Social media are businesses, and like many data-driven businesses, they are good at collecting up stuff you seem to like to give you more of it, whether it’s lavender bubble bath or Nazi literature. As long as you know you need to watch out, and cultivate some balance, you’ll probably be OK. But many folks don’t, and they get too comfortable not thinking outside their bubble. That’s a matter of concern for democracy.
What’s so social about it anyway?
What is social about slopping something onto a website for anyone to see? Why are people sitting across from their significant others in a restaurant while both silently stare at their phones? Am I missing something? Or do I just miss what we used to do to be in contact with others?
Once upon a time we made occasional phone calls. We wrote letters out, carefully spelling the words as they used to appear in print. Then we’d put a stamp on the envelope and mail them. We would make plans to visit and actually pay attention to one another while we had each other around. Call me old-fashioned, but that’s social to me. It’s an investment in time and care and attention to another person that makes social things social. If we lose that, the machines win.
Then there are the data malfunctions
People aren’t careful of their own and others’ information on social media. It’s a giant gossip market where we all forget ourselves in the telling of a tale sooner or later, and innocently say something we probably shouldn’t. Maybe nothing comes of it in your social set online, until the media company itself gets hacked and your information becomes someone’s leverage or marketable profit. But maybe that innocent remark gets read oddly by someone who then spreads their erroneous take on it around, and suddenly your job is on the line.
A little self-disclosure: I was in the Army for a little while and had a security clearance to handle information in my work. An amazing array of things were considered dangerous to people with clearances. Basically anything you can get blackmailed for could cause you to lose your clearance and spend the rest of your contract washing trucks. Or in military prison. So I’m sensitive about what people think they know about me and shun gossip.
So whether your connections on social media mess you up, or the media outlet does it by getting hacked or letting some subcontractor play in your data, there’s an awful lot out there to either trust or fear. Many employers watch Facebook to see whether their employees are engaging with the wrong people; mine is one. Yet another social media concern.
What to do?
So here I am, with one toe in Linked-In, wondering what and how much to disclose to grow my blog there, because honestly I have no other use for Linked-In. I’m about to retire and could care less about advancement. I guess I will try being as stingy as possible with the information, confining it to what pertains to the blog, and forget about the rest.
What is your take on social media and how do you cope with it?