Are Social Networks Becoming Antisocial?

By Carl Weiss

Social networks are nothing new.  They have become the conduits that let us tell the world all about us.  But lately a number of social nets have begun displaying alarmingly antisocial attributes.  Case in point: A new social networking app called Peeple, has been described as a “Yelp” for people, is slated to launch in November.  It will employ a star system that will allow you to rate anyone you know, including ex-spouses, former bosses, your friends and neighbors. 

To some, the specter of being categorized like a side of beef is appalling.  Caitlin Dewey, a reporter for the Washington Post summed up her Peeple angst this way, “Imagine every interaction you’ve ever had suddenly being open to the scrutiny of the Internet public.” That’s a pretty scary thought, if you ask me!
What it boils down to is the question of whether social networking, that bastion of online cordiality is going to transform into a place where all our dirty laundry is going to be aired in public?  I mean, its one thing to have a rating system for businesses.  That concept makes perfect sense, since it is designed to protect consumers from unscrupulous business practices.  But it’s another thing altogether to provide a forum that encourages people to publicly broadcast their grievances.  Let’s be honest, even the business rating model has a few warts that allow underhanded competitors to damage a business owner’s reputation by having their minions post negative reviews.   Since many “business rating nets” make it painfully difficult if not downright impossible to face your accusers, this leaves reputable businesses vulnerable to attack.  Now imagine your personal good name and reputation being besmirched by anonymous pranksters or socially unstable and vengeful people.

Ms. Dewey’s article takes this possibility one step further by pointing out,” To borrow from the technologist and philosopher Jaron Lanier, Peeple is indicative of a sort of technology that values “the information content of the web over individuals; it’s so obsessed with the perceived magic of crowd-sourced data that it fails to see the harm it can do to ordinary people.” It's worth noting that the Peeple App, it's website, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube videos have all been pulled off the Internet after  the tremendous backlash from the general public.

Courtesy of  en.wikipedia.org
This laissez faire attitude also doesn’t take into consideration the potential for defamation or even cyber bullying, which has had deleterious and even lethal repercussions. There are a number of infamous cyberbullying cases that revolved around abusive online behavior, including the first one to make national headlines for causing the person being bullied to kill herself. 

In 2006, thirteen year old Megan Meier was befriended on MySpace by a 16-year old named Josh.  The pair continued a strictly online relationship for more than a month that started innocently enough, then grew abusive.  Eventually, Josh wrote Megan that he didn’t want to be friends anymore.  Then he upped the ante by posting a number of hurtful messages which culminated in a post where Josh wrote Megan telling her “The world would be a better place without you.”  The following day Megan hanged herself. Read more about it here.

To make matters worse, it was learned more than a year later that “Josh” wasn’t even a real person.  It turns out that Josh’s MySpace account was created by Megan’s neighbor, Lori Drew.  While receiving national attention, not to mention a federal indictment, Lori Drew was acquitted of all charges by US District Judge George Wu in 2009.

Courtesy of  en.wikipedia.org
Since then there have been a number of other prominent cyber bullying and cyberstalking cases circulating online.  These include a 2012 incident involving a seventh grader named Amanda Todd, who began using video chat in order to meet people online.  This unfortunately included one stranger who talked her into baring her breasts on camera.  The stranger then tried to blackmail Amanda.  When she refused to pay, the photo was widely circulated online, including on a bogus Facebook page that used the topless photo as a profile picture.  When her mother had her transferred to another school, the stalker managed to track her down online. The abuse continued until Amanda, like Megan hanged herself.

While sexual harassment has always been a problem, when the abuse goes online, finding a way to stop the abuse can be nearly impossible.  Even worse is the fact that this crime isn’t limited to females or the social nets.  In a blog posted by the Telegraph called Sexual Blackmail on Skype, an all too familiar case of sexual blackmail was exposed when a 17-year old boy was duped into exposing himself on camera, thinking he was chatting with an available young woman.  Almost immediately he started receiving demands for money with the threat of having the racy images circulated to friends and family. 

Even more telling is the paragraph in the blog that reported, “Search the Skype forums and you’ll find numerous reports from individuals who have been caught out by the scam. Their messages are desperate pleas for Skype to save them from their shame, to hunt down the blackmailers and retrieve the images they have captured. Scammers often take the video and images they record and put it on YouTube, marked private to hide it from public view. They then send the link to their mark with a threat to make it public if they aren’t paid. They will include as much information about the victim as possible in the title and description.” Read more here.
Courtesy of  www.flickr.com

The problem is even more pervasive when people sign up for networks that are adult-oriented.  Users of dating apps like Tindr and Grindr, and photo sharing apps like Snapchat have had intimate photos and even phone numbers posted without consent.  A number of Hollywood starlets have had their smartphones hacked and sexting photos published online.  The problem is that any intimate photos stored on cellphones, tablets or computers can be hacked.

This has spawned an online cottage industry dedicated to assisting those who have literally been caught with their pants down.  One blogpost by techlicious.com entitled, “Your Nude Photos are on the Internet:  Now What?” leads off by relating the 2011 story of Congressman Anthony Weiner’s woes that began when his sexting photos started making the rounds publicly. This eventually led to his stepping down from Congress.  The blog goes on to point out that while most sexting scandals are usually much less public than former Congressman Weiner’s. Many irate ex-spouses, nosy handymen, or curious teenagers have been known to breach the security of many an adult’s electronic devices to then share their torrid photos.  While most of the illicit photos will only be circulated to a few sites, depending upon the persistence of the perpetrator, these images could find their way onto hundreds or even thousands of sites.  

Courtesy of  www.flickr.com
That being said, if you really don’t want to wind up as the latest online porn star, you need to take precautions to make sure that intimate photos are not easily accessible.  You also need to be cautious about the nets and apps to which you subscribe.  The Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey subscribed to Cuddlr, which was billed as the “Tinder for cuddling.”  It was also promised to platonically connect consenting adults for safe, fun, nonsexual snuggling.

Says Dewey, “That’s kind of where Cuddlr falls on its face. Call it the app equivalent of the popular Internet axiom, Rule 34: “If it exists, there is porn of it.” It doesn’t matter how much Cuddlr insists the app is for free hugs only — in its seven days in the App Store, it’s already turned to distinctly less PG purposes.” Read more here.

Courtesy of  en.wikipedia.org
What it boils down to is that in our app happy, social network sodden World Wide Web, needs a warning label. The term Browser Beware needs to be on the tip of all our tongues, unless the Internet is going to devolve into an online version of a gossip rag where everything goes and nobody is safe. 

Of course it is this very phenomenon that feeds the public’s desire for titillation. It leads this writer to wonder whether the next hot personal review app is going to be named “DateHate,” where you are encouraged to regale the public with the details of blind dates gone bad.  When social networking turns antisocial, the very nature of the genre goes from friendly to downright creepy. 

In this article I have discussed how social networks are moving into a new era where you can rate people anonymously (on a five star scale) or air their dirty laundry without the friends permission. Where this will lead is anybody’s guess. One thing is for sure, some kind of policing must be established to protect individuals from false accusation and slander. My crystal ball reads lawsuit big time.

If you found this article useful please share it with your friends, family and co-workers. If you would like to learn more about this subject, visit the notes page on this blog for the BlogTalkRadio show dated 10/13/15. I recommend checking out "Cyberstalking for Fun & Profit - Is There a Cyberstalker in Your Future?", or "How Do I Hack Thee? Let Me Count the Ways – A Cyberstalking Primer".  You can also search for other related articles by typing in “hacking or social media” in the search box top of this blog.

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Carl Weiss is president of WorkingtheWebtoWin.com a digital marketing agency in Jacksonville, Florida that routinely works with bloggers and other online marketers. 

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3 comments:

  1. Very interesting! Truly, there is a lot of bad stuff going on out there. In a world where the bad guys can easily set up fake email accounts and fake social media profiles, I wonder how malicious behavior can be stopped.

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  3. The internet can be a powerful tool or a dangerous weapon depending on who is wielding it.

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