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January 26, 2017
The Many Faces of Social Media: The Good, Profitable and Ugly
January 26, 2017
This next to last post in the series begun a few weeks ago on “How to be an Educated Consumer of Online Information” covers the vast topic of social media. It’s so vast in fact, that apart from a general overview of this particular communications channel, I’ll only be able to discuss Facebook and Twitter in any detail and it will be just skimming the surface at that. However, social media and what it offers and how it’s used has evolved substantially in just the past few years. Throw in how the new president of The United States is transforming the medium of Twitter 140 characters at a time along with paid political trolls on Facebook and we find ourselves in wholly uncharted territory. That’s why it’s more important than ever for anyone involved with cybersecurity to be vigilant in an environment so inhospitable to the truth.The emergent cybersecurity threat present from the misuse and abuse of social media channels may not be readily apparent, but make no mistake, like the most pernicious variety of malware or social engineering attack, it can exact a staggering toll on its victims, among which are trust, our time, truth. In some cases, even the foundations of a free society. The threat from the misuse of social media is eerily similar to that of computer malware: the disruption of systems and processes via an electronic payload.Networks for GoodFacebook and Twitter were founded on the fundamental principle of bringing people together online, no matter how geographically dispersed. They put the “social” in the social network. I know more than a few people who don’t have a Facebook profile and it’s by choice. But far more do than don’t. In terms of technical innovation and size, Facebook remains in Google’s shadow, but it does the social part better than anyone. Ask Google how that Google+ thing is working for them.Twitter took the concept of “microblogging” to a new level with its 140-character maximum post size known as a “Tweet.” The power of the Tweet should not be underestimated and I’m not just referring to the hourly emanations from President Trump’s cellphone. Twitter has been instrumental in driving other political movements such as the Arab Spring and other protest movements. It’s also served as a vital communications channel during crises such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings. And of course, no political campaign would go into battle now without a well-planned social media strategy, with Twitter at its core.Despite the incredible growth and usage of Facebook and Twitter they are headed in opposite directions financially. While Facebook’s stock price has climbed in a steadily upward direction since its IPO in 2012, Twitter’s shares have fallen a staggering 77% since their peak in December 2013. Things have become dire for Twitter with the company laying off 9% of its workforce in October 2016 after attempts to sell the company fell through. Reasons for this disparity between the two social media giants can be perhaps be found in how they monetize their platforms.Powerful Marketing ToolsFacebook struck proverbial gold when they launched their Facebook Ads platform. It’s a pay per click (PPC) platform that rivals Google AdWords. The shear amount of demographic information that Facebook offers up to advertisers on its ads platform is unlike any other. Quite a bit of money gets banked both by Facebook as well as savvy advertisers who know how to leverage Facebook’s advertising for maximum return. Facebook has also consistently innovated on the features front with their popular mobile app and now offering live video streaming to its users. This last feature has sadly been abused recently.Twitter also offers native ads as well as reselling its user data, but combined, has not been able to lift the company into the black. The irony is that Twitter remains as popular as ever. Nevertheless, Twitter provides a wealth of marketing and promotional features for its users. Many companies – both Fortune 500 and mom and pop – use Twitter as a forum for providing customer service to their followers. Since the online world is watching, it’s economic suicide not to be responsive to customer Tweets @businessname!Twitter is also a fantastic source of fast-breaking news, often scooping traditional news outlets on developing stories. And what Twitter user hasn’t been thrilled by getting a retweet or shoutout from their favorite celebrity?Both Twitter and Facebook along with a host of other social media platforms offer an arsenal of marketing and promotional tools for both businesses and individuals to leverage. An entire field has sprung up around these platforms and demand for those skilled in social media marketing, known as “channel managers,” is on the rise.Privacy, Bullying and The Dark SideWith such power comes responsibility – both from the owners of the social media platforms - but especially from their many users. The issue of privacy is on-going in the social media world and knowing how to configure it on the client side isn’t always transparent, especially on Facebook. Despite this complexity, it’s your responsibility as a user to educate yourself on all things privacy-related. Best practice is to assume that everything you post anywhere on social media or the web for that matter regardless of privacy settings will be there for God and everyone to see forever and ever world without end, amen! After all, an ill-advised Tweet has ended the careers and employment prospects for more than one unfortunate social media maven.The dark underbelly of social media manifests in many ways, but one that has become rampant and the subject of much public debate and concern is online bullying. In fact, it’s become so much of a problem on Twitter that it’s thought to be a contributing factor in the fall of its stock price. Twitter has promised to do more to address the issue of bullying on its platform, so we'll see. Facebook isn’t immune either and its live video streaming feature has been used recently for some disgusting and horrifying activity, the details I won’t share here. There’s Google for that.Finally, there’s rise in Fake News and general all around trolling across the web with Facebook and Twitter featuring prominently of late. The dissemination of disinformation along with flat out lies (alternative facts) is a worrying trend.Perhaps just as troubling or potentially more so, is wholesale silencing of certain voices on these platforms by government actors. We’ve come to expect such censorship and blocking of social media in China and North Korea, but just this past week the social media accounts of certain U.S. government agencies have been directed from the Oval Office to go silent. I realize this comes across as a partisan attack on my part on the new administration in Washington and my intent and job here is not to politicize what we share with you.The intent of this series of blog posts is twofold: share tips and insights for more effectively using and consuming information across multiple online channels and at a higher level, it’s to connect this process with our work and responsibilities as professionals working in the IT fields. As alluded to in the opening of this post, malware and the damage it inflicts on an organization’s assets doesn't just come in the form of Trojans, viruses, worms, and DDoS attacks.Next up: Safely Navigating Digital News (final post in this series!)