Radio Think Tank Talk – Social Networks Warping Society, A Revaluation of Importance

Well here we are on this 24th day of October 2012, and we ought to ponder for a minute how much our society has changed in this last decade. In many regards it hasn’t necessarily been for the better, and I’d like to cite the example of online social networking, as it seems to have invaded our Internet lives to a large degree, often making a mockery out of the important issues and the challenges of our time. The social networks have caused the over throw of governments, de-stabilized civilization, and changed the outcomes of elections. Our elections in the United States included.

Still, is it a net negative or have these social networks actually brought us closer together in other ways thus, it is a net positive? You see, the reality is there is always good and bad in any new technology – social networks included. Today on this program I will argue that social networks are a big problem for human societies, and if this continues in the current direction we will pay a dear price for it in the future. Currently, we are watching productivity drop as employees are too busy text messaging friends and playing on Facebook while at work to be of any real value to a company’s bottom line.

The billions of hours wasted each quarter are hurting companies’ profits and revenue, it also causes challenges with workflow, customer service, and mistakes. We are killing people on the road as users attempt to access their social networking sites, send tweets, or text messages while driving. Indeed, as a bicyclist, I am afraid to ride anymore – too many close calls, and it seems those text messages are more important to people than my life or even their own safety. In fact, I saw a bumper sticker the other day, it read; “Honk if you love Jesus, Text if you want to meet him,” and that about sums of that problem in a nut shell doesn’t it?

Indeed, I can remember when I received my first text message, I thought it was rude, as I’d sent detailed instructions and explanations to a fellow associate, and he sent me back a one-sentence email, I hadn’t realized it was a text message sent from his mobile phone to my email address. I was so turned off I cancelled my deal, and called another associate. Only later did I realize that he was just texting me with his new technology – still, the shallowness of his comment was the deal breaker, so I moved on.

It amazes me sometimes the number of people who wish to state their opinions about things they know nothing about. They critique, chastise, and show their ignorance at every turn. They mistake comments made by achieved persons to mean something else because their attention span is so low. Further, any attempt to correct them is just “pearls to swine” as they don’t get it or even care to understand. You see, they are so interested in notoriety and self-validation, that they work so very hard to promote the most socially responsible and politically correct argument, even if it is untrue or a white wash of reality.

One of the biggest and scariest things I’ve seen is how people who’ve done nothing in the world ever in their lives are busy trying to gain friends and figure that once they get a lot of friends on their social networking page, they have arrived. The problem is very few of those people are actually friends, and some of them are not even real. It becomes even worse as they run around complimenting people hoping to get more friends and followers, and follow others in order to hope to get a reciprocal friend, or join someone else’s circle of influence. The whole thing has now become a big, fake, sick joke.

Still, these folks feel they are now something special with lots of pictures of so-called friends and followers, but to what avail? Some who have attained thousands of friends by hook or crook have worked very hard to get folks to “friend” them back by use of false praise. Indeed, they assume everyone needs pre-validation. They read one book such as “how to win friends and influence people” or take one psychology class in college and assume they can complement their way into someone else’s life. What they don’t understand is the really achieved people don’t care what anyone else thinks, actually any sort of trite compliment is a turn-off, and it’s immediately seen for what it is and what it is worth; nothing.

That is not to say that there isn’t money in social networking, so these players of the game, are not worth nothing as all that data is certainly worth something, and it could be a big revenue machine in the future, so let’s discuss the business model and the challenges moving forward shall we?

There was a recent interesting article in the summer of 2012 which noted that over 10% of all the Facebook accounts were fake – wow, so they don’t really have a billion users as they announced in mid-October of 2012, they only have 900,000 and yes, while that is still quite a few, it also means that potentially 10% of anyone’s listed online “friends” are non-existent, they are not real. Not that anyone who “friends” you on a social network is really your friend anyway – see that point. Please read Bloomberg BusinessWeek article; “The Making of a Billion” by Ashlee Vance (October, 2012).

As I am speaking, today Facebook announced its earnings for Q3 2012 and it beat the street’s low-ball estimate by one-cent per share – big whoopy, skippy, but no one seems to be addressing that it only makes $.42 off each user each month in advertising – but is that advertising really pulling for those advertisers? Still Facebook must find more ways to make money and we’ve heard all sorts of things such as offering gambling online where it is legal in the UK, and we’ve heard rumors of going into the mobile tech field with their own mobile phone – that would be interesting.

Indeed, Facebook realizes how valuable all that data that they have is, who doesn’t right, isn’t it all about Big Data these days? There was an interesting article in the LA Times titled; “For Sale: Your Info” by David Lazarus, and I’d also recommend reading; “Facebook Gains Two Big Advertisers’ Support” by Shayndi Raice, Mike Ramsey, and Sam Schechner which discussed the auto industry and the GM choice to stop advertising on Facebook because it wasn’t pulling for them. On Twitter some users with an abundant number of followers have been paid to talk up a Ford Taurus, or Ford Hybrid Escape earning 10s of thousands of dollars often for only one tweet.

That sounds silly, and somewhat pathetic when you think about it, but if it works for those companies and their Hollywood Starlet of the month gets people into the Ford dealership, well what the heck, if it works; go for it, right? Facebook had was making some $3 billion a year on advertising as of the middle of 2012 (Cite: Wall Street Journal 5-2-2012 “The Big Doubt Over Facebook” by Suzanna Vranica and Shayndi Raice). Still, just last month in September of 2012 an editorial in the WSJ noted “The Facebook Deficit” as the title which also noted that California hoped that the Facebook IPO would be big and cause a $2.5 billion dollar tax revenue windfall helping to shore up the budget, well that didn’t happen.

Is Facebook’s stock going to collapse? Well, it might as there will be a number of insiders who are now able to sell their shares in late October and November, which could cause the shares to tumble. This could cause an implosion, or if losses subside or revenue guidance continues an upward trend maybe those shares might find a bottom and then climb back upward. No one can say, but do you remember the MySpace collapse? How about the recent Digg debacle (cite: WSJ article; “Once a Social-Media Star, Digg Sells for $500,000) by Joseph Walker and Spencer E. Ante.

Facebook does have advertising potential especially for branding and big brand names, even political ads, but even big advertisers often note that their ads do not be appearing to pull for sales, but they do help keep brand names in the face of the consumers (cite: “Big Brans Like Facebook, But They Don’t Like to Pay,” by Emily Steel and Geoffrey A Fowler in the WSJ published on 11-12-11). Okay so, if the ads are not pulling, why do advertisers keep playing? Simple, they need exposure and online ads are less expensive per view than per subscriber in the newspaper or on cable TV, thus they often can get a decent bang for their buck for those additional exposures.

Internet ads are outpacing those in newspapers this has been the trend and on December 20, 2010 we noted an article with a chart from eMarketer showing that “for the first time” spending Internet ads exceeded the money spent in print (cite: WSJ article “Online Ads Pull Ahead of Newspapers” by Russell Adams). Well, that seems to be a continuing trend but Facebook has some headwind, namely competition, and the reality that as it grows in user numbers, those overseas users are not worth as much to advertisers as the US users who spend more as consumers, not surprising as they have more to spend.

Facebook and other online companies are now looking to the small business market (cite: WSJ article published on 11-26-11 titled; “Facebook ‘Likes’ Small Business,” by Sarah E. Needleman) and rightfully so, in fact the company started their push by “giving away $10 million in advertising credits. Smart move, but will it work? There are lots of eBooks, and magazine articles about how to use social networking to build your small business, and mobile is all about GPS and location based aps, and Yelp is a help to small businesses, as long as they don’t try to stack the reviews with shrill type comments.

Let’s not count out Google+ or LinkedIn also going after those Internet ad dollars, and realize they are just as wise when it comes to big data. Please read; “LinkedIn Pushes Ad Tools” by Ian Sheer published on 1-26-11 in the WSJ which reflects the increased competition for this business user base on the social networking scene. Of course, 18-months later LinkedIn had their passwords hacked causing a bit of user angst, but we all know there have been security breaches at Facebook and Google as well. With Facebook, some of what had occurred appeared to be “privacy setting” changes by the company which really upset users.

Of course, anyone who puts things online they don’t want others to know about is taking a risk anyway. Even if the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) appears to be all over the social networks for privacy issues, there is just too much money involved in Big Data not to double dip, and really many in the sector say that’s where the real money is at (cite: Facebook Looks to Cash in On User Data” by Jessica Guynn, April 17, 2011 Wall Street Journal and “Facebook Says User Data Sold to Broker by Geoffrey Fowler 11-1-2010). Obviously, this isn’t new news, but how soon users forget, and all the while Facebook is building bigger and bigger data centers, aren’t they all?

So who wants all this data? Well, our government, and also foreign governments, our corporations and also foreign corporations too. It’s all about target marketing, and although the current artificial intelligent searching algorithms create far too many false positives to truly help targeting advertising, they aren’t getting better.

Perhaps you’ve watched ads change and follow you around the Internet as you surf for something to buy? Ever wonder how all that works, or how those cookies end up imbedded on your computer? There was a special section in the WSJ’s Weekend Journal titled; “The Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets” by Julia Angwin (10-1-2010) and you should read this and yes, you ought to be alarmed at what’s happening with your information.

Today there are programs, software, and even options at some online social networking sites which allow the user to view all of their activity together; “Seeing All Your Social Networking in One Place,” by Katherine Boehret. That’s pretty neat isn’t it, well, yes until you consider that the advertisers have all that data, so too do these social networking companies, and that means the good old governments of the world do too. Quick question; can you trust your government, how about a foreign government? Well, you might be surprised to learn that our Founding Fathers didn’t trust any government, even the one they were creating at the time – why do you think there are so many checks and balances built in to our government structure?

Indeed, there are good reasons for the government checking on the flow of information – surely it makes sense for our intelligence agencies to watch closely the information flow, so we get pre-warnings of potential terrorist attacks around the world right? Yes, and our law enforcement here wants that ability, and we need not cite the realities of intelligence failures on 9-11. Then there are the messages which go viral, those are important, remember the 9-11-2012 riots and protests in 20-countries around over some ridiculous concocted anti-Islamic video? The video from hell more like it, really bizarre, well, you can see why tracking a viral video is important right? Please read; Technology Review article “Graphiti – Information’s Social Highway – A Start-up studies the paths taken by viral messages,” by Keith Urbahn in the January-February 2012 issue.

Believe me when I tell you the mathematicians and computer scientists know more about you, your social network, and your real and pretend friends online than you do. There is big money in all of this and lots of opportunities too. As I’ve indicated previously, much of the big data is big dumb data, but the more they learn about you, that is to say the more information online about you whether you are posting incessant personal information or not, the better they are able to track you, predict your behavior, know your friends, and sell you something, or put you on some list of questionables, which kind of goes against our basic freedoms and liberties in the US. Do you remember when the FBI used to keep a dossier on everyone it suspected of being un-American?

Peter Thiel, an expert on the topic had an interesting quote; “Most of Big Data is a fraud, because it is really dumb data,” and that quote appeared in an article by Holly Finn in the Wall Street Journal on October 10, 2012 titled; “New Gumshoes Go Deep with Data” and yet, as much as that might be a reality today, don’t think it will be tomorrow because there is just too much opportunity for all this in the future. In fact, I’d say that when President Obama once stated “be careful what you put on social networks,” it may have been one the few times he’s told the whole truth.

Matt Ridley explained this psychological phenomena of people sharing personal information in an article titled; “Internet On, Inhibitions Off: Why We Tell All” in his weekly column on February 18, 2012, which I believe addresses some of my concerns as well. Google tells us that its first rule is to; “Do No Harm” and yes, that is a catchy phrase for a very successful search engine, but who is to say that the information you post, won’t be used by others to harm you? If you put all your information online, it is akin to giving confession at a Catholic Church, but not knowing who is on the other side of your personal information, as Ridley so eloquently noted, and realize he’s no conspiracy theorist, he’s a realist.

Then there is the awards programs, where social networking participants can post for points, or watch their influence score rise as they garner more followers (cite: WSJ article 2-8-11 titled “Wannabe Cool Kids Aim to Game the Web’s Social Scorekeepers” by Jessica E. Vascellaro). I find this problematic because it has turned online participation on social networks into a sort of computer game of popularity. Further, it takes them away from the real world and puts them into a fake virtual world while changing their perception of what’s important in life – which I guess in a way brings us back full-circle to the productivity issues in our society and businesses, and the reality that the next generation will be even less productive even with their computer tools, technology, and $100,000 student loan degrees. Do you see that point?

Now then, let’s get back to how these social networking formats are evolving to the detriment of our society shall we? First, I’d like to point out that people of all ages have modified their life styles to meet their new addiction to these social networks. They seriously cannot be away from their tech toys or social networks for more than a few hours at a time. They go crazy, get anxious, and even throw a fit if they can’t access the information or send a message out. They feel as if they are missing something if they are not constantly text messaging or communicating, even if most of the tweets are senseless, wasteful, and just dribble of zero real value.

Not long ago, I talked with an acquaintance that had joined a social network, and immediately tried to friend 100+ people without even learning anything about them. She just wanted friends, modified her picture to look like a hot blonde (maybe a glamor shot or old college photo), and she was off to the races with 100 friends instantly, none of which she actually knows, maybe one or two, but she lives on the other side of the planet from where most anyone else on the site is from. Somehow believing that this is success, or this is how to build “friends” but even after investing all that time, what’s to show for it – some idle chit-chat from others attempting to do the same thing, seeking self-validation in their careers – but to what avail?

The other day, I went onto my Google+ page to see what was going on, apparently some folks who I don’t know had signed up to follow-me or put me in their circles. There were some folks from very interesting backgrounds, many different places around the planet, none of which I know, nor are they my audience from what I could tell looking at their resumes or what they had on their own page. Further, although I enjoy the diversity, and it did look like the UN when looking at all their names, I don’t know them and don’t really care if I ever meet them.

Still, I guess if someone has themselves in other people’s circles, then that’s a good thing – or so they say. I ask why, why is that a good thing, and who cares, where is the value? Those who specialize in social networking marketing tell me that it is good to be an influencer because that means you can market a product or sell something. Personally, I don’t sell anything, and if I did, I find it less-than-ethical to run around pretending to care, or have fake “virtual” friends you don’t know trying to constantly coax them into buying something from you, voting for a particular candidate, or helping them look good on their own social networking page; why? There is no honor in that, is there?

I’d say those are all fair questions. Also, I’d say that living a pathetic life on Facebook seems rather silly, it’s not even real – in essence it is; a diversion from reality, a detraction from productivity, and a waste of ability. Not to mention the fact that, if one gets too into it, they are liable to take information from a “fake person” as real, or use information from those social networking sites to make decisions and join groups whose causes are often questionable or to vote for politicians who are clearly unfit to lead just because a few political operatives had friended them. Are you starting to see what I mean yet?

Basically this whole social networking thing has tricked people, perhaps of lower level intelligence, to put information online which will be used against them either to market them a product, service, or get them to vote a certain way, or maybe rebel against a government or join a cause, all so they can be used by someone else for greed of power or money. Welcome to online social networking, and aren’t all you humans so proud of yourselves now? How gullible everyone is, such low self-esteem that they just can’t help themselves and so in need for every drop of kudos or praise to make them feel whole. Addicted to the popularity chase, and yet, it’s all fake, everyone playing a game, which has nothing to do with anything.

Worse, many people are cheating or gaming the online system of social networking platforms, trying one-ups-manship the next person – and I wonder what happened – did they not get enough of the social clicks in high school, did they long to be popular or notable? Are they missing something in their lives? Sure they are, but I’d submit to you they are missing more if they stay and play too long in the virtual world and allow the real world to pass them by, and really you can’t feel sorry for people about this, as it was their choice to spend and/or waste hours on social networks, just as the last generation became fat, dumb, and happy watching TV as couch potatoes.

In that regard these social networks are just trading in the old technology for the new. Personally, I am tired of both of them, so hopefully someone will come along soon and leap-frog the next generation of social networking tools and we can move onto something else, something worthy of the human experience, something that will solve the problems in our society and not create more. When will that time come? It’s hard to say, but I will state; it is long overdue at this point.

Many people are worried about a cyber-attack taking out the internet, or worried that an online networking site will deliver them malware to their computer, or that the networking site may go offline. Personally, that might actually be what’s needed to help people break their addiction to all this. It’s gone on too long, and some of the largest networking sites serve very little purpose for their users, other than to waste their time, productivity, and future options while jading their view of the world, and making real inter-personal relationships nearly impossible.

My thinking is that eventually all this momentum has to end because none of it is real, that things have to come back into a reality check, and thus, these sites need to evolve into a useful tool for the users, they haven’t and continue to go the wrong way, while those who own and run them are busy trying to figure out how to maximize them monetarily, and with each incremental rendition they become more of a detriment to the user. This isn’t what they signed up for, of course, someone should have told them, or perhaps that voice in their head reminded them that; nothing is free. And yes, that would include these networking sites.

Well now, it appears we are back at the top of the hour and that means my talk time is up, and it’s your turn to sound off and state your case. If you’d like to defend this new paradigm of internet communication of tweets, posts, and “friending” online now is your chance. If you are listening to this on the radio pick of the phone, if you are reading this as an online article, a transcript of the show, leave your comment below. Indeed, I am sure there will be quite a bit of controversy in this call-in session, but that’s okay, because it’s time we had a national dialogue on this topic, it’s way overdue and without further ado, let’s take your call;

“Caller 7, you are on the air, what do you have to state with regards to this topic?”

Additional reading;

1.) Research paper; “The Relationship Between Depression and Internet Addiction,” KS Young and RC Rogers. yberPsychology & Behavior. SPRING 1998, 1(1): 25-28. doi:10.1089/cpb.1998.1.25: January 29, 2009.

2.) Research Paper from the proceedings of the 13th Americas Conference on Information Systems, Keystone, CO. August 09 – 12 2007; “Trust and privacy concern within social networking sites: A comparison of Facebook and MySpace, by Catherine Dwyer, et al.

3.) Research Paper from the International Journal of Media & Culture Politics; Volume 6, Number 1, 1 January 2010, pp. 81-101(21). “Disclosure of personal and contact information by young people in social networking sites: An analysis using Facebook profiles as an example,” by Taraszow, et al.

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