Social Media Matrix

Good News

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 65% of online adults use social networking sites (such as MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn).  This usage has increased 61% from one year ago, and more than doubles the percentage that reported social networking site usage in 2008 (29%). For the first time in Pew Internet surveys it means that half of all adults (50%) use social networking sites. The pace with which new users have flocked to social networking sites has been staggering.  When we first asked about social networking sites in February of 2005, just 8% of internet users – or 5% of all adults – said they used them.

When social networking users were asked for one word to describe their experiences using social networking sites, “good” was the most common response. Overall, positive responses far outweighed the negative and neutral words that were associated with social networking sites (more than half of the respondents used positive terms). Users repeatedly described their experiences as “fun,” “great,” “interesting” and “convenient.” Less common were superlatives such as “astounding,” “necessity,” and “empowering.

Source: Madden, Mary and Zickuhr, Katherine. 65% of online adults use social networking sites.Pew Internet & American Life Project. August 26, 2011.  accessed on April 27, 2012.

Bad News

In their annual “State of the Net Report”, Consumer Reports mentions social networking and specifically highlights Facebook:


“More than 150 million Americans already use the site, and the number grows daily because Facebook makes it so easy to keep up with friends, family, and colleagues, discover great content, connect to causes, share photos, drum up business, and learn about fun events.

To deliver this service, Facebook and other social networks collect enormous amounts of highly sensitive information—and distribute it more quickly and widely than traditional consumer data-gathering firms ever could. That’s great when it helps you find old classmates or see ads for things you actually want to buy. But how much information is really being collected about you? How is it being used? And could it fall into the wrong hands?”

The report further highlights:

“The picture that emerges has bright spots but also many causes for concern, including the following:

Some people are sharing too much. Our projections suggest that 4.8 million people have used Facebook to say where they planned to go on a certain day (a potential tip-off for burglars) and that 4.7 million “liked” a Facebook page about health conditions or treatments (details an insurer might use against you).


Some don’t use privacy controls. Almost 13 million users said they had never set, or didn’t know about, Facebook’s privacy tools. And 28 percent shared all, or almost all, of their wall posts with an audience wider than just their friends.

Facebook collects more data than you may imagine. For example, did you know that Facebook gets a report every time you visit a site with a Facebook “Like” button, even if you never click the button, are not a Facebook user, or are not logged in?

Your data is shared more widely than you may wish. Even if you have restricted your information to be seen by friends only, a friend who is using a Facebook app could allow your data to be transferred to a third party without your knowledge.

Legal protections are spotty. U.S. online privacy laws are weaker than those of Europe and much of the world, so you have few federal rights to see and control most of the information that social networks collect about you.

And problems are on the rise. Eleven percent of households using Facebook said they had trouble last year, ranging from someone using their log-in without permission to being harassed or threatened. That projects to 7 million households—30 percent more than last year.

Some of these issues arise from poor choices users themselves make. But there is also evidence that people are treating Facebook more warily; 25 percent said they falsified information in their profiles to protect their identity, up from 10 percent two years ago.


Other problems can stem from the ways Facebook collects data, how it manages and packages its privacy controls, and the fact that your data can wind up with people or companies with whom you didn’t intend to share it.”

“Social networks are rewriting social rules”

One thing is for sure: Facebook and other social networks are changing the way the modern world operates and “rewriting the rules” of social engagement, as Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg puts it.

Examples abound. Facebook recently partnered with the Department of Labor and others to help connect job seekers and employers, developing systems to make job postings viral. When tornadoes hit the Midwest and Texas this year, photos of animals posted on Facebook helped families find lost pets. The network keeps active-duty soldiers in touch with families, including a National Guardsman serving in Afghanistan who not only reconnected with the woman who later became his wife but now uses it to follow the daily milestones of his newborn daughter. And millions now turn to Facebook to express their opinions to government and businesses, flexing their collective muscle in ways never possible before.


The site also aids commerce. Last year, boosted sales of its Modern Embrace Pink Rose & Lily Cube and Make Mom’s Day Bouquet before Mother’s Day by asking moms to use a “Like” button to indicate their preference. And more than 18 million people visited or “liked” a brand’s page after learning that friends had done so, our survey suggests. That’s why so many organizations maintain pages on Facebook.

At the Consumer Reports page, for example, we host live chats with our experts, share articles, and query visitors to help in our reporting. We have also bought ads on Facebook to tell users about our activities.

Ads like those are what keep Facebook so profitable.

The company uses your data to help advertisers deliver ads that you may find useful. Suppose, for example, that you have “liked” the San Francisco 49ers page, or simply posted comments about football. You shouldn’t be surprised to see ads in the margins for football tickets, fan paraphernalia, and the like.

Facebook does not share any of your information with advertisers that buy those ads unless you give permission.

If you click the ad and purchase something, the advertiser obviously learns who you are. And even if you simply “like” a brand page, the company can automatically send posts to your account. Such reach helped Facebook multiply revenue almost fivefold in the past two years, to $3.7 billion in 2011.

This revenue model dovetails neatly with Zuckerberg’s oft-stated goal of “making the world more open and connected.” The more data you share, the more Facebook knows about you and the more powerful its ad-targeting machine becomes.

Privacy experts worry that Facebook’s business model runs contrary to people’s interests. “Facebook has purposefully worked to erode the concept of privacy by disingenuously claiming users want to share all of their personal information,” says Jeff Chester, founder of the Center for Digital Democracy, a D.C.-based consumer group.”

Source: “Facebook & Your Privacy.” Consumer June 2012. Web. 05 May 2012.