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Are Social Networks At All Genuine?

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Social networks are a big thing. Some people hail them as brilliant technological innovations that have brought us closer together; others call them a bubble that’s just about to burst and take everyone down on the way. As a web enthusiast and Internet lover, I’ve embraced social media and have active accounts on all the big ones and even some of the small ones (Diaspora anyone?). But as I become more and more entrenched with them, I can’t help but wonder if there’s anything trustworthy, anything honest, anything genuine about them at all? Are these contraptions enhancing our lives? Or are they just turning us all into the unwitting pawns of a few select cyber-mad ultra geeks?

Adrian Short says that anyone who doesn’t own their own personal domain and web site is a second class citizen and that social networks like Facebook have actually usurped our own independence and freedom from right underneath us, at best exploiting all of the information they keep on us and, at worst, holding for ransom our years of memories and personal experiences. He’s not wrong. Facebook especially stores a huge amount of data on everyone who uses it, all 750 million of us, and exploits it to their advantage with targeted advertising and the promise of easy and successful business promotion. There is nothing genuine about Facebook. It’s a for-profit company that sells emotion, memories and relationships and the more we feed it, the more dangerous it becomes.

[Facebook is] a for-profit company that sells emotion, memories and relationships and the more we feed it, the more dangerous it becomes

In fact, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that social networks are becoming less and less genuine with every passing year. What started out as an honest and fun way to connect with friends has turned into a multi billion dollar industry, making and breaking companies all over the world. MySpace went from top of the Net to a bargain basement sale whilst Zynga went from unknown obscurity to a potential $1billion IPO. It’s a cutthroat sector that’s for sure, with every social network out there doing the best they can to grab hold of you and never let you go.

Facebook now integrates with everything and with their Open Graph protocol, everything now integrates with it. It’s the hive mind of the 21st century and we’re happily letting it take control. Google + is no better, leveraging its influence over the Google search engines to entice people and businesses alike to use it. And that’s the really frustrating part. As more people become intertwined with these services, the harder it is to ignore them as either an individual or a business. Didn’t find out about that party invite last week because you weren’t on Facebook? Shame. Didn’t sell enough widgets to keep your business from going bust because you didn’t have a Facebook marketing plan? Bigger shame.

Didn’t sell enough widgets to keep your business from going bust because you didn’t have a Facebook marketing plan? Bigger shame.

The truly scary thing though is what is happening, and potentially going to happen, with all of this ultra-info these companies are storing about us. Facebook knows more about me than my own mother and now with its new timeline feature I can witness a depressing virtual recreation of my entire lifespan, starting from the moment of my birth to what my best friend had for lunch today. Throw in the ability to track my browsing history via ‘like’ buttons planted all around the web, integration with my favourite video games and credit card billing systems, and my entire life has just been, calculated, measured and stored on a poorly normalised database in a data center in Bangladesh, ready for any diligent hacker to expose. Or for Mark Zuckerberg to sell.

So are social networks at all genuine? Of course not, they stopped being genuine a long time ago. They are now simply businesses, just like any other and nothing more, designed for the sole purpose of making cold, hard cash. Except they don’t sell products or entertainment or even useful services, they sell youYou are their commodity of trade, you are their resource for business, you are their product, cattle ready to be farmed.

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Author: Gordon McLachlan

Gordon is uncomfortably good looking.




Showing 11 Comments

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  1. Nicola Sinclair September 29, 2011 at 10:05 am

    Interesting post, I enjoyed that! What do you reckon is the answer then? I’m assuming you haven’t given up on Facebook for the reasons you mentioned (keeping up socially, business marketing etc) and most of us are in the same boat. Perhaps a mass virtual suicide?!

    I also think there’s an interesting question around how genuine people are in social networks, as well as the networks themselves. Thinking about how often we self-edit, and also about all the celeb twitter ghost-writers. The sites aren’t genuine, and we aren’t genuine on them, so is there any real ‘social’ in social networks any more?

    • Gordon September 30, 2011 at 11:28 am

      I’m not really sure what the answer is :P I do think the future will be an interesting place though, especially as the Internet becomes more and more a part of our normal existence. From a purely anthropological point of view, it’s going to be very fascinating to see how the world – and our relationships with each other in it – evolve!

      In terms of how genuine people are on social media, I think it’s like everything in life – some people our honest and open whilst others just want to sell and market themselves.

  2. Facebook: Friend or Foe? : Metta Audio September 29, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    [...] I’ve been thinking about Facebook, partly inspired by this piece by 8 Gram Gorilla. Gordon asserts that “Facebook “[Facebook is] a for-profit company [...]

  3. DM Osbon September 30, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    The social media space is such a melting pot of corporate manoeuvring & the individual ‘shouting into the wind’. Burnout will be much more a concern for the individual as corporations squeeze the bandwidth, so to speak.

    The number of social media startups surely can’t maintain the current pace, surely?

    • Gordon September 30, 2011 at 11:03 pm

      I think it’s interesting that Google+ hasn’t allowed companies to set up accounts yet and they seem more sincere about keeping G+ as a traditional interpersonal social network rather than a corporate marketing tool. Reminds me a bit of Facebook four years ago :P

      • DM Osbon October 2, 2011 at 10:45 pm

        And yet I didn’t feel Google+ like I did when using Twitter for the first time. I do know some are leaving Twitter’s shores for Google+ but I’ll hold out on a judgement for now.

  4. Jeannette Paladino October 2, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Your depressing blog exposes what most of us don’t want to hear — that our lives are an open book to be exploited by the social media giants. All of us are in business to make money.

    No shame in that. But the little guys don’t have access to every move their clients and prospects make that would help us to sell them more of what we sell. I’m not cynical. This has always been the case. That’s why big companies swallow little companies that have found a new way to build something and the guppies are happily willing to be swallowed for the money. Also, nothing illegal about that. Let’s not be naive. We know when we sign on to the newest networks, like Google+, they are not starting it out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to make money and money is to be made where people hang out.

    So if you don’t want to bare your sole to yet another predator, don’t join. That’s life.

    • Gordon October 2, 2011 at 11:53 pm

      “So if you don’t want to bare your sole to yet another predator, don’t join. That’s life.”

      No doubt you’re absolutely correct, Jeanette, although I would argue that some people are too naive to consider this (especially all of the kids getting hooked on FB these days) and that these social networking corporations have a responsibility to not to sell and harvest their data. It seems almost a little immoral in my books.

  5. The Future of Facebook | 8 Gram Gorilla October 2, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    [...] timeline feature I can’t help but wonder about the future of the social network. I know my last post about social media was kinda bleak but, as someone who’s been trying out the timeline via a developer account for a few days [...]

  6. Aaron Eden October 5, 2011 at 9:54 am

    Gordon, your post may have looked like another conspiracy theory about the Social Web – but I too am becoming quite scared on the power of information these days. Privacy has become an illusion and yes, social networking sites may help in connecting friends and families over distances – but, other than that, I guess it’s all marketing talk. There are lots of people/businesses using social media automation tools to help get things easier and I wonder what you think of it? Purists would say NO as they want to be hands on with everything, leading to social media fatigue. Then, those that do, they would argue that it’s saving them time so they can use it to engage better. Love your insights, by the way!

    • Gordon October 5, 2011 at 9:59 pm

      Thanks, Aaron!

      I have mixed feelings about social media automation, to be honest. On one hand it is indeed very convenient and seems a natural progression yet on the other it can be a real invasion of privacy and potentially very dangerous. I mean, considering how much information something like Facebook has on us, what would happen if they decided to sell it off to marketing companies?

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