The Power of Social Networks

No matter what society throws out there, people either use it for the good, the bad, or even worse, downright ugly purposes. This is a universal fact. According to Google, nearly 60 percent of people talk more online than they do in real life. As much as we may try to resist it, Social Media is taking over our lives: how we communicate with friends and loved ones, how we socialize with those we don’t know, marketing, job searches, and dating. In many ways in which we conduct our lives, we are doing so electronically. Consider the following information:

Students

StudentsThe Good: After George Middle School in Portland, Oregon introduced a social media program to engage students, grades went up by 50%, chronic absenteeism went down by 33%, and 20% of students school-wide voluntarily completed extra-credit assignments.

The Bad: Students are distracted by Social Media causing their grades to go down as much as 20%.

The Downright Ugly: Students use social media to cheat on tests and even post SAT exam test questions. Additionally, one million children were harassed, threatened or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on Facebook during the past year.

Law Enforcement

policeThe Good: 67% of federal, state, and local law enforcement professionals surveyed, think “social media helps solve crimes more quickly.”

The Bad: Criminals use social media sites to coordinate violent crimes, recruit gang members, and threaten other gangs. Thieves use social media to check when people are taking their vacation in order to commit robberies.

The Downright Ugly: According to Southern Poverty Law Center “Hate groups utilize social networks to recruit new members and promote evil ideologies, such as white supremacist group Christian Identity.” Most recently ISIS has used Social Media to coerce new followers, resulting in some Americans enlisting in their cause. CBS News’ Julianna Goldman reports, “As many as 3,000 Westerners are fighting alongside the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and other jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq. Many are recruited through a powerful online media campaign.”

Public Awareness

WHOThe Good: Social Networking has made information instantly available. In a crisis, it helps connect the masses with important public health and safety information. After the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and nuclear disaster, the World Health Organization was able to use social media to provide health information, and also counter rumors telling people to ingest salt to combat radiation. Even the Boston Health Commission used social media to notify its 4,500 Twitter followers about clinic locations and wait times for vaccines during the H1N1 outbreak.

The Bad: Since Social Networks have become a platform for the public to communicate globally, it has opened up a ‘Pandora’s box,’ of sorts. Anyone can say anything they want to, whether or not it is true. Some false information is not even intended to be false, but simply someone’s opinion. Where once small town gossip controlled a community, global gossip is creating a feeding frenzy for the latest information. Monitoring the validity of such information is extremely difficult.

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The Downright Ugly: Criminal online impersonator activity is on the loose. Fox News reported a story about fitness model, Mackenzie Kelly who had up to 79 copycat Twitter accounts uncovered by Twitter that had to be dismantled. Copycat accounts can be used to spread false personal information for defamation of character purposes. Most recently, Google user profiles were hacked, resulting in explicit and private pictures of celebrities being made public. After facing a $100,000,000 lawsuit, Google has aggressively begun to shut down 100’s of accounts found to be linked to the photo leaks.

Advertising and Business Promotions

adsThe Good: According to Forbes contributor Jason DeMers, 92% of marketers in 2014 claimed that social media marketing was important for their business, with 80% indicating their efforts increased traffic to their websites. DeMers stated, “According to a report published by Texas Tech University, brands who engage on social media channels enjoy higher loyalty from their customers.” Social Media Today reported, “89% of respondents said that social media marketing has generated more business exposure; 64% saw lead generation increase by using social media 6 hours or less per day; 69% of marketers use social media to gather marketplace intelligence; 62% of marketers using social media for 2+ years reported a rise in search engine rankings and 62% of businesses with 10 employees or less reported that social media has reduced marketing expenses.”

The Bad: Information on social media is easy to manipulate. Although created with positive intentions, monitoring the ‘who’ and ‘how’ information is being manipulated is coming into play much like an afterthought. The top offender currently in the news is Yelp, in which consumers can post their review of what they experienced when utilizing business services, which the public relies on far too often. Yelp has been cited in multiple law suits of extortion in their use of results of feedback, both negative and positive. According to the San Francisco Gate, “Yelp insiders and executives sold off more than $81 million in artificially inflated stock while deceiving shareholders about the company’s business practices and financial outlook, shareholders are alleging in a federal class action lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.” However, Yelp is just one example of multiple companies manipulating reviews. There are actually companies that will pay you for clicking on ads, since the amount of ads clicked on, raise the level of more potential sales.

The Downright Ugly: In January of 2013, L.A. Times reporter David Lazarus wrote an article about a company that issues ID cards for reviewers to flash when entering a place of business. Brad Newman started a business in Manhattan Beach issuing a ‘Reviewer Card’ to promote online reviewers, identifying them in places of business so they can get more respect and better service than the rest of us. Newman states “I’m going to review them anyway so why not let them know in advance? It’s not hurting anyone.” Yet it is because they receive preferential treatment that the business will receive a glowing write-up. Ultimately, if a vendor believes you’ll write a negative review on social media, they will change their level of service making the review unreliable.

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Businesses becoming intimidated by online reviews is gaining strength.  Daniel Edward Craig of Reknown.com poignantly explains the problem, “Consumers intoxicated by their social media clout, bristling with indignation and entitlement, and all too aware of how far some businesses will go to avoid negative commentary, they hint at, request or outright demand concessions and special treatment. And if they don’t get it, the underlying threat, whether real or imagined, is they’ll lash out via social networks.”

Finding Employees/Job Seeking

careerThe Good: According to socialnetworking.procon.org, 64% of companies are on two or more social networks for recruiting because of the wider pool of applicants and more efficient searching capabilities. 89% of job recruiters have hired employees through LinkedIn, 26% through Facebook, and 15% through Twitter. One in six job-seekers credit social media for helping find their current job. 52% of job-seekers use Facebook for the job search, 38% use LinkedIn, and 34% use Twitter.

The Bad: Job recruiters reported negative reactions to finding profanity (61%), poor spelling or grammar (54%), illegal drugs (78%), sexual content (66%), pictures of or with alcohol (47%), and religious content (26%) on potential employees’ social media pages. Anthony Weiner, former US Representative, was forced to resign after a Twitter sexting scandal in 2011. Several athletes were banned from the 2012 Olympics because of their racist social media posts.

The Downright Ugly: CareerBuilder reported that 51 percent of employers who research job candidates on social media said they’ve found content that caused them to not hire the candidate, up from 43 percent last year and 34 percent in 2012. According to Career Builder, 46% of online job candidates posted provocative or inappropriate photographs or information. Having a picture of an actual pig being your best friend is not advised.

Increase in voting/political information

congressThe Good: Facebook users reported they are more likely to vote if they see on social media that their friends did so. During the 2012 presidential election, 22% of registered voters posted about how they voted on Facebook or Twitter, 30% were encouraged to vote by posts on social media, and 20% encouraged others to vote via social networking sites.

The Bad: It’s also used by politicians apparently ignorant of the ability of the public to view their posts, tweets, and text messages. Remember a few years ago when Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner was caught sending sexy photos to young women via Twitter? In an article written by Colton Gavin on statepress.com, he explained, “His defense was to claim that he didn’t do anything and that those same political opponents hacked his Twitter account and sent out the photo.” Hacking the personal hardware of a sitting congressman is a serious offense. The FBI had to get involved, which pressured the congressman to come clean. There are many politicians and partisan groups that use the internet to get their point of view out in cyberspace to sway the public toward their stance.

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The Downright Ugly: USA Today published an article entitled “Internet Voting ‘Not Ready For Prime Time’,” in which they quote Verified Voting as saying that there are about three million people eligible to vote online in today’s elections, most of them members of the military. Numerous security risks are cited that are inherent in Internet voting. On thenewamerican.com, writer Kurt Hyde reveals the downright ugly of manipulating online voting. “Readers of The New American have often been warned about the dangers of Internet voting. For instance, the October 9, 2000 issue carried an article entitled ‘Voting on the Web,’ in which readers were told of the dangers to electoral integrity due to the inherent insecurity of the Internet.” He continues, “Back in 2010, Washington, D.C., experimented with a new online voting system. City officials were so confident their set-up was secure that they invited the public to attempt to hack it. University of Michigan graduate students Eric Wustrow, Scott Wolchok, and Dawn Isabel accepted the challenge and, working with Professor J. Alex Halderman, were easily able to break into the system. Their published report revealed: Within 48 hours of the system going live, we had gained near complete control of the election server. We successfully changed every vote and revealed almost every secret ballot. Election officials did not detect our intrusion for nearly two business days — and might have remained unaware for far longer had we not deliberately left a prominent clue. Fortunately, these were not malicious hackers. So-called white-hat hackers penetrate a system for the purpose of identifying security weaknesses, and then publish reports and propose improvements.”

No matter what the information, it is permanently fixated in the cyber world, so it is imperative that Social Network users wise up and realize that anything they post is accessible by anyone: government, employers, and criminals. For as much as everyone benefits from the instant connection provided by Social Networks, be advised that it is not a friend. It is simply a platform that everyone can access.

 

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