Five Problems With Social Media

        We’ve come a long way baby!!

It is an understatement and, quite frankly, stating the obvious to say that the internet has come a long way in a short period of time.

When I was in high school I had to take computer math as one of my required courses for graduation. This was also my favorite math class.  One of the more significant assignments I had was to write binary code for a picture. I chose the simple smiley face – like the yellow one you see on t-shirts, buttons and other items. It was binary code written to a brown floppy disk. ( I still have the disk, but have yet to find a computer that can read it.)

The first computers I had access to were chunky and a luxury that I absolutely could not afford. Actually, among my ancient computer nostalgia collection is an apple computer brochure I received my first year of college in 1989. It was illustrated by none other than Matt Groening.

(The Comic’s Alliance has a nice post on the book .. and if you’re a geek or a fan of Groening or Macs, you might find it interesting. )


My very first exposure to online social media was in 1995 when I decided to visit a local internet cafe’ and do an online search for my biological family.  I needed help for just about everything from logging on the computer, creating an e-mail account (Yahoo) and of course joining a Yahoo chat room.  I remember seeing people type lol@<persons name> and asking if that was an e-mail address.  That went over pretty well … of course!

         Today we have so much more!

That brown floppy disk is  a far cry from the options we have today – CD/DVD, external hard drives, memory sticks and more.  Today we have computers in homes across the world, free internet at coffee houses, libraries, restaurants, airports, planes that are 30,000 feet in the air.  Desktops, laptops, iPad’s, Notebooks, iPhone’s and now even the computer watch.

Technology is amazing to say the least!

We also have way more than older chat-rooms and forums of the past.  Social connections, like Facebook and – the not as popular anymore – MySpace, keep friends and family connected with media, status posts, pictures and the ability to share posts and articles not just from other Facebook/MySpace users but from anywhere in the web.

Google is not just a mail client, but a hub of social networking through it’s google plus hangouts, video conferencing, the ability to share documents and other files through google docs.  There’s Twitter, Snapchat, Flickr, Instagram and the previous favorite photo-bucket for photo sharing, YouTube for Vlogging, making and sharing videos. Not to mention serviced like Sound Cloud where people can upload their music or podcasts to share with the world!

Social Media, however, isn’t just limited to Yahoo, Google, Facebook, YouTube,Twitter. Instead it encompasses other mediums where people can interact in realtime, hearing each other and being able to interact through virtual world platforms. MMO’s such as World of Warcraft and virtual world’s like Second Life provide an opportunity for people to verbally communicate while physically interacting through avatar’s in virtual worlds.

You can also add to the list internet stores, news sites, and also blog’s ( such as this one.)

When you really begin to contemplate and dig through this thing called Social Media, you will easily find a very intricate and detailed web that, while each having it’s own distinct presence, is connected to the whole like threads weaving in and out. It’s almost as if, just like in the physical world, the concept of six degrees of separation equally applies in the virtual world.  A recent blog that I came across while doing some reading about social networks discusses this in depth and beyond. I found the information very well put together and of course, I borrowed the illustration to use for my feature photo because it’s probably the best and most accurate I’ve seen.

The author of the blog is Frédéric Cavazza and while most of his work is in french, this particular piece is written in English – and very well written indeed! You can read it here.

The general consensus, in my experience, is that people either love social media or despise it like a 6 year old would normally gawp at a plate of turnip greens and liver.  Personally, while there are certainly downsides,  I feel there is so much to be gained from utilizing all the social media available.  However, I will, reluctantly attempt to address some of the negatives of this phenomena.

      Five Problems With Social Media

                  1. There is a greater risk for miscommunication.

I know it seems rather obvious, but still, we occasionally find ourselves being involved in online miscommunication. Either you, yourself, were misunderstood or you have misunderstood someone else.  It could have been something simple as an ambiguous “I’m Sorry.”

Is it a sincere apology? Or is it a snide remark meant to justify instead of resolve a situation  or problem?

It has been said, and will be said multiple times over, that when one is left with only the plain written word with which to communicate and hear or be heard, without the presence of body language, tone of voice, or facial expression with which to help decipher meaning and context,  communication can take on meanings that were never intended.  You know what you meant to say and thought you expressed it well. However, the receiver of the message derived a completely different message, and you are left wondering how that happened.

There are simple suggestions to help avoid this –

  • Hold back on posting/sending your e-mail/blog post/Facebook post or response and then reread it in a day or so.  Does it convey what you intend, or could you streamline it and remove words or sentences that don’t help to say what you really mean to say?
  • Reread anything that provokes a strong emotional response in you. Give yourself time to cool down to a more rational state and then reread what was written to you. It’s easy for you to get hooked into a word or phrase and focusing solely on that, failing to absorb and interpret the entire message, and comprehending what is being said in it’s entirity.
  • Give the benefit of the doubt and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.  There are few things worse for relationships than coming to conclusions and acting as if those conclusions are fact before verifying.  The best you can do is to give the other person the benefit of the doubt and simply ask  for clarification on what was said.  Example: If the person said I’m sorry, unless the next words say something to the effect of “but you are wrong and stupid,” assume it is a sincere apology and affirm with your own apology, offering an agreeable resolution. If you, yourself are offering an apology, try using the words “I apologize” in place of “I’m Sorry.” This makes it less likely for you to be misunderstood.
  •  Make attempts to contact the person directly. If this is a person you have direct communication with such as a face to face friend with whom you can call on the phone or meet in person, then step away from the computer and talk to the person directly over the phone or in person.
  • Use, but don’t overuse, emoticons. A simple smile can sometimes help convey intention. However, be careful because even that can also convey sarcasm. (ex. Oh, I’m sorry! I sincerely didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. You are a very good singer! *S as opposed to something that seems more genuine ” I apologize. I appreciate your talent and thought you performed very well. 🙂 ” If you have to declare you’re being sincere, you’re probably not being sincere.

                      3 common words that make you sound rude in e-mails has a few more helpful suggestions.

             2. Copywrite’s and license’s are more difficult to protect.

Platforms such as Facebook, Flickr, Photo bucket, YouTube and even blog and news sites,  were created with the intention of  expanding venues for creative expression, but too often these materials are pirated, copied and redistributed ( sometimes for profit.)  Many professionals, such as photographers, use websites in order to promote their work and also as a tool to communicate with their clients. While there are steps one can take to protect someone from downloading the content onto their computers without permission, there’s ultimately no way for anyone to completely stop those who want to take and use them for free.

A Creative Commons license is useful when respected, but ultimately, once something is on the internet, it’s there for anyone to take for their own if they so choose.

Limewire was a peer to peer file transfer program used for doing just that- file sharing music, film,  computer software and anything that could be transferred digitally.   Limewire was effectually shut down through a court order in 2010, but people can still get any of the same content through other mean such as UTorrent.

YouTube video converters can be utilized to convert practically any you tube video into an mp3. The file is then downloaded straight to the computer. Another option is to configure your sound-card’s stereo-mix function and then record the song, from YouTube or any other streaming media site, with recording software such as Butts or Audacity. These programs will easily convert the sound file to mp3.

Video editing software such as ManiCam or Frapps will actually allow you to create video from your computer screen.

Photo’s can be saved on a computer by right clicking and choosing save, or by printing the screen and pasting it into a photo editing program.

There are more advanced ways of doing all of these things, and while I could take the time to hunt them down and explain them in even greater detail, that would essentially defeat the purpose. (Which is to explain how this behavior can be hurtful to artists and creators who utilize the internet to showcase their work and expand their customer or fan base.)  And I wanted to reinforce the point that it does not take advanced knowledge in order to do these things.

I can, however, point you to some helpful suggestions to aide in protecting your work.

It is also worth mentioning the concept of  Hotlinking. In essence a media file is embedded from your webgpage to another and steals bandwidth from your bandwidth to support their files.

How do I protect my media files from “hotlinking”?

       3. Truth is optional, often misconstrued, or just flat out ignored.

I know this to be very true through just plain experience. Several years ago, a barge hit the mall where I was previously employed. The impact created a large gash into the the structure causing an incredible amount of damage. It also drew the attention of every news crew in the immediate area. News reports were broadcasting furiously as stories came in and people were being interviewed.  Initial reports came in that human bodies were spotted floating on the river.  This was broadcasted over multiple networks until they received more information which confirmed that the bodies were actually mannequins from “The Body Shop” that had fallen into the river.  (Personally I didn’t really even need to have that confirmation to know something was very wrong with this particular report as a dead body would’ve more likely have been pulled by the undercurrent and dragged down river a few miles or so before it ever resurfaced again. )

I have personally witnessed more of this type of misinformation than I can count. So, I have first hand knowledge of how truth is definitely relative when it comes to social media.

People fall for hogwash every day. Every minute there is someone posting or re-posting some untruth either for entertainment, spite or financial gain. Ever receive the infamous e-mail that identifies you as the winner of 1 million dollars; all you have to do is contact the person and give them your bank details so they can wire you the winnings?

This is a problem because, while we like to think people are smart and won’t fall for scams, any of use are fallible and can be deceived if we aren’t careful.

Facebook is one of the worst breeding grounds for falsehoods and scams.  Everything from the president is building Nazi camps in the backwoods of Mississippi to aliens are controlling the Illuminati who are controlling television, radio, internet, Hollywood and out children in public schools.

When it comes to truth on the internet, if you’re the one spreading rumors without any facts … stop it! If you’re reading these things, stop and check the facts before you send the news on to others. Often just a simple google of the title of the article or the rumor will be enough to bring facts or fiction to light.  If you can’t find anything to support the claim, or if it just seems extreme or far fetched, it probably is. So, I advise to let it go, and even remove it from your news feed if possible.

Not only are rumors and untruths annoying, they can also be dangerous. Consider this article posted by Larry Birriss in regards to an argument gone ary on the website 4Chan.

Telling truth from fiction, and social media rants from cold hard reality

Also keep in mind that there are other types of false information patrolling the likes of Facebook than just bad rumors and scary conspiracy theories.  These are scams that come in the form of posts that claim to be giving away free stuff in return for likes, comments and re posting on other friends timelines. Just don’t do it.  If it looks really interesting you can try doing a little research to see if there’s any truth to the claim, but these ads are mostly untrue and considered to be a form of virus because it prompts du0plication of itself.

            4.  Can cause problems in personal relationships.

This doesn’t seem to be something that needs to be or should be said. However, there are those who become so engaged within the virtual world, be it through gaming, videos, music, online sex, gambling, forums or all of the above, that they simply forget about other areas in their life.  Their relationships suffer because they reduce the time they spend with their loved ones and friends in order to spend more time online. It can grow from obsession to addiction. In extreme cases, people have been known to skip meals, and hygiene.

This is simple, though it doesn’t feel that way. Just as with an alcoholic, you have to be willing to step back and admit you have a problem.  Then you have to take steps to resolve the problem or the problem will do more damage to you than you realize.

Internet and Computer Addiction

I knew of a group ,within one of my gaming communities, that completely disbanded because a few of it’s member were fired from their jobs for being late or completely missing work in order to participate in group events. This is serious. If you find yo9urself putting more value on virtual reality than your actual physical existence then you have cause to be concerned.

However, you do not have to be addicted to these extremes in order to create problems in your life. If you’re online when your husband/wife or children are alone and needing time with you, or if you’re missing family gatherings or skipping out on participating in your religious community, then you may need to step back or at the least, say no to the computer every once in a while and opt to put your loved ones and real life relationships first.

It’s easy to create strong bonds with online friends.  However, those fiends don’t live with you, they didn’t commit to you  in sickness or in health. They don’t depend on you for guidance, love and support as your children do. When you turn the computer off and walk away, the people in the computer don’t leave with you, but your family is always there.

Therefore, enjoy your time online, but also make sure to schedule time for those you have relationships with offline as well as take time for yourself offline.

The online community will still be there when you log back on.

           5. Creates a false sense of anonymity and/or privacy

                                                                                                                                             –       MMO’s   –

It is easy, in MMO communities to forget that you are a person and the avatar you’re interacting with has an actual living, breathing person operating it.  All too often people behave out of character to their real life persona because they feel they have anonymity behind the computer screen.  They feel they can verbally abuse and harass others and even sometimes go as far as to threaten others.  These types don’t care because they believe they don’t have to be responsible for their words or actions.  The truth is, while operating under the disguise of avatars and screen names can provide a false sense of anonymity. In reality,  the internet cannot provide an impenetrable cloak of invisibility.

Just recognize that encountering this type of person is unavoidable within the online community, particularly within MMO’s. It comes with the territory. If anyone does actually take steps to follow through with any threats of real damage, such as hacking or stalking you online or threatening you physically, you can report this behavior to the customer service line of any game as well as report to authorities if it applies.

Other than that, you can ignore most offenders.

                                                                                                                     –    Facebook ( social community sites )  –

Facebook can be and is a very useful tool for effectively keeping in touch with friends and family through status updates, pictures a well as sharing from other media sites.  Overall I believe Facebook has been very successful in creating these connections.  However, there are concerns that must be addressed and considered when utilizing this social tool.

Facebook requires the use of your real name. There are those who do use created personas, but the rules that you agree to upon joining Facebook is that you will create your account using your real identity. The only exception is if you are a band or public figure. In this case you are using your band or pseudo-name.  If you do any different then you can find your account disabled and removed at Facebook’s discretion.

Facebook has a host of privacy tools at your disposal, but again, remember, nothing is 100% private online.  Let’s say you post a picture of your 6 year old child on Facebook. Someone else can share that photo if you don’t have your privacy settings configured, or they can simply download the picture on their own computer or print the screen and paste it into a picture editing software program such as Gimp or print shop. Anyone can do this and you have no idea who. Strangers, who you can’t see and have never met, looking at photo’s of your 6 year old child – that’s not something anyone wants to think about.

–  You employer or future employer could be watching.  Many people post photo’s of their job, or make comments/status messages about their job. If you post that picture of you in a skimpy Halloween picture posing like a hottie in Magnum in your work uniform, name tag or in your workplace itself that is ground for dismissal and possibly a lawsuit. Just don’t do it.  Present employers and future employers all consult social media in regards to their employees. Anything that casts a negative shadow over you in your personal or online life can have huge ramifications within the workforce.

                                                                                                                                 –    Forums and News Media   –


Featured image use through Creative Commons License   Frédéric Cavazza  2008.