[Dave Birch] Like every other new technology that leaks into mainstream media, the cycle from “hey wow isn’t this amazing” to “this is the end of civilization as we know it” is predictable if shortening in duration. Now it’s social networking’s turn. Anyone who is interested in the future of identity has to be interested in the models being forged in the Reed’s Law furnace of MySpace, Facebook, Bebe and the like, that much is clear. These subnetworks are already vast: Facebook now has more than 3.5 million users in the UK, MySpace has more than 10 million users and Bebo has 4 million unique visitors. Friends Reunited is the champion, though, with 18 million users registered in the UK. But is the sky really falling in? I don’t doubt for a moment that that some people are putting details such as such as date of birth, address, email, job and marital status on their pages and that these are useful to potential fraudsters. A recent snapshot of Facebook turned up some useful statistics about this: more than 40% of Facebook users reveal some “sensitive” personal data and more than 20% gave personal data to a spoof friend request from a plastic frog called Freddi Staur. Of those, four-fifths gave their full date of birth and current address. It seems to me that the real risks are less about identity fraudsters trawling Facebook — when they have much better large scale data sources — than the long-term impact of posting pictures of yourself throwing up after drinking a bottle of cider.

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Let’s not panic. Media stories about how Facebook users could become victims of identity theft, seduced by perverts or recruited by neo-Nazis shouldn’t drive identity management strategy. As an excellent article in Spiked highlights, the Facebook fright is driven more by a suspicion of the apparently unpredictable and unwieldy web-surfing generation than by facts or true stories. What’s more,

It seems that wherever the cyber masses converge, there will always be an expert, therapist or man in white coat issuing warnings to them about the harm they might be doing to themselves and to others.

It seems that the web from its earliest days has been seen as unregulated and ungovernable (neither of which are true, it’s just that it’s mutating faster than the regulators), an out-of-control, free-for-all platform for paedophiles and terrorists. All of the characteristics of the web that have made it a space for innovation and experiment are seen as being in some way dangerous, and the Facebook panic is just the latest manifestation of the same.

Which brings us on to the other part of the current panic about social networking, that potential employers may review your history online. I have to say that this is a genuine issue, in my opinion. Not only might potential employers do this, but actual employers already do. A substitute judge lost his position with the North Las Vegas Justice Court last week because of hostile comments aimed at prosecutors on his MySpace page. But surely any employer who takes seriously anything on a MySpace page deserves all they get. I hope potential employers take the time to look at my MySpace page, which says that I was too busy helping sick children at the orphanage to take time off to go and pick up my Nobel prize.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

1 comment

  1. Hi,
    I’d just like to say that social networking, something I am not, and never will be part of is a disgrace.
    I work in online marketing and own a business. I have peers who want to start up social networking sites because of “how easy it is to make money out of the insecure” – something I will never do!
    My Sister was 14 and on every one of these sites. My sistr’s friend, same age, ran away with a 30 year old man because of being groomed. As a Brother, the fact my Sister and her friends can so easily get on these sites and have their pictures viewed by anyone, especially when they’re too naive to make it private – fills me with distraught.
    Social networking?:
    Money from insecurity
    Breeding ground for paedophiles
    I feel so strongly against the whole concept and I cannot tell you how disappointed I am in my fellow humans!
    Take care if you do use any of the http://www.insecurities.com type sites!

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