Mashable just published an article surveying some of the recent stories of people rejecting social media (Anti-Social Media: A Rising Rebellion Against Web 2.0?). They cite examples like the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine, workplace bans (citing productivity concerns), and the phenomena of teens rejecting Facebook.
An abstinence-only approach to social media will likely be as ineffective as the abstinence-only approach to sex education: both rely on ignorance and are based on the assumption that one can control the behavior of others. It’s far more effective to be pragmatic and arm people with information so that they’re empowered to make decisions about their future.
Problem is, it doesn’t matter if a handful of teens are rejecting Facebook; that’s not going to stop information about them (or any of us) from ending up online.
The details of your life are online whether or not you choose to publish them: friends and neighbors are posting photos of you, corporations are digitizing records, and government documents are going online. The process has been slower for digital immigrants, but for digital natives – it can begin even before they’re born as parents and relatives post sonogram photos or blog the intimate details of the pregnancy.
Don’t believe me? Search for yourself with Pipl (a seach engine focused on gathering information about individuals) and see what you find.
I sympathize with the privacy concerns (I, like most, used to do everything online under pseudonyms), but here are two realities you can count on:
- More information will be published about you online.
- The tools we use to aggregate, sort, index, and categorize information online will continue to improve.
In that context – abstaining from social media seems a bit foolish. By trying to stay off the grid, you’re voiding your say in how you’re portrayed online. People (university admissions offices, romantic prospects, and employers) will invariably use the web to learn about you, and it’s prudent to participate in the identity that is created for you online. At the very least, it pays off to have a Facebook account so that you can keep track of what your friends are saying and posting about you (and ask them to hide or untag photos/videos or other content that you’d rather not have go public).
Employers attempting to force employees to abstain from social media to maintain productivity might want to more closely evaluate that approach. First, it’s expensive and time-consuming to try to block access to everything online (and most efforts can easily be defeated anyway). Second, it hasn’t been established whether or not social networking adversely affects productivity (the research thus far is pretty skimpy – and it’s mostly based on surveys as opposed to measuring/observing employees at work). You’ll likely want to evaluate the type of work each employee is doing and consider factors like these before making a decision:
- Do they need to incorporate creativity in their work?
- Do they need to collaborate with others (including customers/clients) on their work?
- Do they need to be aware of current events or social trends?
- Do they need to stay in contact with co-workers/customers/clients who aren’t within yelling distance?
- Do they need to frequently reference resources to do their job?