Dark side of social media

2014-07-30 00:00

I WAS sitting in my living room watching Top Gear , my daughter was playing in the garden with our dog and a hose, when the call came: “There’s been an accident. Your wife has been cut out of the car and airlifted to hospital.”

It’s a strange thing that happens in these situations — on the outside I had to remain calm so as not to panic our daughter, while on the inside my brain was stuck on a loop: “Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, oh crap”.

I arranged for some friends to look after our daughter and headed to the hospital as soon as I could. Seeing my wife strapped up on a stretcher, her head secured with pads to prevent movement, is one of those life moments that become tattooed in your memory.

Needless to say, it was a tremendously difficult time. I was having to drive back and forth from the hospital, which was 2½ hours away, and trying to assure my little girl that everything was okay while she stayed with friends. Thankfully, my employers were fantastic and gave me all the time off I needed to deal with the situation. I had friends and family praying for and supporting us throughout the whole ordeal.

Those friends and family were amazing, and thanks to the wonders of social media, I was able to keep everyone across the world appraised of any developments and encourage prayer and well wishes from everyone who was concerned.

But it was with those amazing positives came one of the worst negatives of the whole experience.

It was on the second day that I was making the long drive to the hospital that the first call came: “Hello, I’m calling from Insensitive Jerk Legal Firm. I understand your wife has been involved in an accident. Are you considering suing for damages?”

The caller had no idea how, or even who, my wife was. He didn’t even know if she’d survived the accident. Less than 24 hours had passed since the crash and the vultures were already circling.

I dare say my caller learnt a few new adjectives in that conversation, as I described very openly how I felt about his call, his business, life choices and mother.

The reason I received his, and several other calls of the same nature, was that I had shared on Facebook a private detail of my life so that friends and family could be kept informed. This information was then passed onto marketers who targeted relevant advertising.

I want to make it clear that I’m not totally opposed to informed marketing from social media; it is a useful tool for both marketers and consumers alike. I’d much rather that advertisements for products that actually interest me are presented — goodness knows I never want to have to hear about a Spice Girls reunion or Kim Kardashian’s latest marriage/divorce/baby/handbag — but there has to be a line drawn somewhere.

Why does everything we share with our friends have to be shared? Surely access to my “likes” and so on, is enough? Accessing my life as it happens is just wrong — especially as it is then used by the likes of ambulance chasers who make a bad situation worse.

I read on Tom Fishburn’s fantastic site the following statistics: “In a recent Communispace study (PDF), 86% of consumers would click a “do not track” button if one existed and 30% would pay a five-percent premium for a guarantee that their personal data would not be captured.

“Yet 52% of consumers would share their personal data with marketers for discounts, with younger consumers more comfortable sharing personal data.”

I think when you use a format like social media, you have to accept some level of compromise. These are (for the most part) free services, and they remain free because they derive profits from the marketing position they hold.

But regulation is needed to control the level of access available, and allow consumers control over not just who sees a post (which most allow you to control), but how that information is then used. Having adverts for movies similar to those I have liked is one thing. Having funeral directors call because a loved one died a day ago is another thing altogether.

What do you think? Is the corrosion of privacy an acceptable casualty of a social media-centric world, or do the operators of these sites need to be more accountable for how our data is used?

— Biznews.

• Duncan Casburn is head of account management at Flint Hosts.

• Biznews.com was founded and is edited by Alec Hogg. He can be contacted on Twitter (@alechogg and @biznews.com

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