But as parents, we have found that Facebook, while on it’s “face” is fun, entertaining and a good way to connect with friends and family, also has a more sinister, dangerous side. Facebook can be like Dr. Jekyll or like Mr. Hyde.
What? We love Facebook! It's like a favorite aunt, your best friend or and old running buddy you shared many a road trip with down through the years. How could FB turn on us by selling our personal data and private information? How could FB be a place where terrible bullying occurs? How can the pictures we post on FB ruin relationships or cause us to lose a scholarship or a job?
They do it for money. According to ComScore, online marketers showed a record 1.1 trillion display ads to U.S. Internet users in the first quarter of 2010 … a 15% increase from last year. At the head of the line is Facebook with 176 billion display impressions and a 16.2% market share. (And we thought Facebook was about family vacations and embarrassing pictures from that party when people got really drunk.) Social media sites are building humongous databases on every member, friend and visitor. All this insight is sold to advertisers and marketers who target their display ads to our individual interests.
The Writing On The Wall - Your Facebook Wall
The idea is to create a network to help friends, family and people with similar interests connect with each other. Thanks to Facebook, high school classmates I've avoided for over 20 years can find me. None of this could have happened if I had kept my name and my personal information locked away and totally secure.
With very few exceptions no one has hacked into the social media sites and stolen data. We have simply given it away. Over a third of us have posted something online that has come back to haunt us. According to a survey by Retrevo, nearly 1/3 of the people who ‘posted before they thought’ said it ruined their marriage, relationships or caused problems at home or work. I know it's obvious but if you'd be embarrassed, compromised or penalized by something on a social media site … don't put it there! FB may feel like your BFF but that's certainly not their goal.
Standby for Paranoia
Look at it this way. Your individual data is what you put onto the Internet. You think it's private, but it's not, never was and shall be forever archived for the CIA to dig up (or just someone with an interest in your skeletons).
Tell your children now: Everything you've ever said, sent, viewed, spoken or entered on the Internet is still out there. You might 'remove' it but it's not gone. Even old websites never disappear. The Internet Archive has 150 billion web pages archived from 1996. Forget diamonds, the Internet is forever. As a wise man once said, "Trying to take something off the Internet is like trying to take pee out of a pool."
The Dollars Make Sense
Marketing is a tough business. Social marketing is a relatively new channel and Facebook is struggling to deliver a ROI. They have to provide an effective way for their marketers to capitalize on all those relationships. Facebook is only five years old and valued at approximately $15 billion. But it never made a profit until 2010 when CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced it was "free cash flow positive." How does a company lose money for five years and yet have a worth of $15 billion?
Every time you Google or search in Yahoo, Facebook or elsewhere, a cookie of sorts is created by marketers capturing your intention. Have you ever noticed that? Say you Google “hotels in Miami” and you search the results, checking prices, availability, etc, but you don’t buy. Then you head over to Yahoo and do a similar search. The top choices happen to be the choices you had narrowed your search to in Google! In fact, there is a display ad in the right column enticing you to that certain hotel you were very interested in! Trust me, that’s all done on purpose. As a marketing tool, this “leading” the customer is actually pretty helpful. The data analyzes your "Likes", "Diggits", "Stumbles" and general interests and scours the web looking for offers to plate up on your search results. Great for shopping or planning a vacation—not so great for children and teens.
What About the Children?
In addition to the possibility of cyber-hacking, parents must also be concerned about bullying on social network sites. According to stopcyberbullying.org,
"Cyberbullying" is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyberstalking is NEVER called cyberbullying.
It isn't when adult are trying to lure children into offline meetings, that is called sexual exploitation or luring by a sexual predator. But sometimes when a minor starts a cyberbullying campaign it involves sexual predators who are intrigued by the sexual harassment or even ads posted by the cyberbullying offering up the victim for sex.
The methods used are limited only by the child's imagination and access to technology. A child can be cyberbully one moment and victim the next. The kids often change roles, going from victim to bully and back again.The director of a very well-known private school in Atlanta recently sent home an email addressing the concerns parents have about social media. He makes some excellent points, which are quoted below:
Digital communities have enabled a new economy and more exciting ways to communicate and network with friends. Unfortunately, the use of both the Internet and Internet enabled phones raises significant developmental issues for young people and has led to numerous problems both in our community and beyond.
Parents today need guidance regarding how to regulate the Internet, social networking, texting, the use of Internet enabled phones, and private e-mail addresses for your children. Schools have seen an increase in the misuse of these technologies this year, resulting in hurt feelings, cruel behavior, broken friendships and dangerous situations.
Our school offers students a private email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) beginning in 6th grade. We believe this is the proper time and environment to learn about having their own private email address. As we head into the summer months, we would like to suggest that you spend time understanding what your children are using these technologies for and how often they are using them.
We urge you to adopt the following beliefs in your home:
- Lower School students do not need a mobile phone.
- Middle School students do not need an Internet enabled phone (texting is OK, no pictures).
- Middle School students should not have a presence on Facebook or other social networking sites.
- Parents should set appropriate stop times at night for mobile phone (texting) use and make sure that phones are charged in a central location in the home.
- Parents should not allow computers in private spaces at home. If possible, computers with Internet access should be used in public areas and students should understand that there is no expectation of privacy regarding their use of the Internet.
- Recently there has been much talk about a website called Formspring.me, which targets middle school students through their Facebook accounts. We believe that this site is pernicious and inappropriate for all, regardless of age. But the Formspring.me of today will take another form tomorrow and we hope that by setting some expectations we can help families in our community better set boundaries around the positive use of technology.
What works best is parents communicating with parents about these issues. If this letter helps open that dialog, then we have been successful. Questions for parents like, “at this sleepover will you be collecting all of the phones?” or, “is there a computer in the room where they will be having a play date?” are relevant and appropriate. Parents should communicate with each other about these important issues and understand the seriousness of the challenges that lurk in the unknown.
So Do You Follow Dr. Jekyll Or Mr. Hyde?
Social media isn't a right and users don't own the experience. Just because it's free doesn't mean that the tooth fairy pops up once a month to pay the bills. The intent has always been to make a profit. To increase revenue, social media sites have two obvious alternatives - charge subscription fees, increase advertising options - or both. So, how do you use social marketing without compromising too much privacy?
Monitoring children works—organizing a boycott against Facebook does not. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Linkedin are like social crack. They are addictive. They have 400 million active users … so a small boycott somewhere in the world has no effect on their power. The average Facebook user visits the site at least once a day and spends an astounding 55 minutes engaging friends and family. What will they do without it? Social media companies know this and make this addiction their business models.
Facebook needs the warm, friendly Jekyll image to attract the 1-billion users worldwide that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has targeted. And they need the action-driven, pragmatic Mr. Hyde to generate the revenue they need. What we are seeing is the social media sites facing the reality that they are in the business of selling advertising and our preferences and personal data is the marketing bait. So warn your children and heed this advice: Be very careful what pictures you post and what you say on Facebook. After all, they aren't really in the relationship business—they’re in the data-mining business.
This summer, help your children navigate the internet and teach them to recognize the difference between a "Dr. Jekyll" and "Mr. Hyde". Monitoring is great - but for long-term protection of your children on the internet - Education is Key!