Deep Thought

Why Facebook is potentially fatal

So that's a rather brash title isn't it? Well I feel that a subject like this needs to be met with outright forwardness and it is for this reason that I am writing this article. Now this isn't an article bashing Facebook or it's recently changed privacy settings, its about the people that use it. I'll start with a case in point. A friend of mine posted a status update earlier today saying "Who the heck is [insert name here]?!" - because the guy he was on about had been posting comments on his activity. Now the person he was on about also requested that I be his friend and when I looked at our mutual friends we had about 50, but I decided I didn't know him so I didn't accept the request - seems logical right? Well although to you and me it might, it seems that spammers who previously had covered relatively little ground on Facebook have moved onto fake profiles in their masses. And this made me think.

Facebook puts an awful lot of work into ensuring privacy, they make sure that you have "total" control over your account and it's up to you what you share. But all of this hard work to protect users is immediately invalidated when any user accepts a friend request from someone that they don't know and have never heard of. Anther example - another of my friends once confirmed a friend just because they had the same name of them, but upon inspecting their profile found absolutely no links - the guy lived half way around the world.

You could think that I'm over-reacting, but I can assure you, I' not. Although I, personally put very little content on Facebook, think about the millions of vulnerable users that do - a like of a certain band here and a joining of another group there can soon lead to a huge psychological profile of any user. I would go as far as to say that your activity on Facebook could be enough to kill you. Woah! You say, but allow me to elaborate. Imagine some serial killer on Facebook looking to harvest information. Many people make their contact numbers public, while the rest make their movements known to all of their friends. Addresses, dates of birth, and other valuable information is stored on Facebook. Many banking systems use your date of birth and address as security information - think on that. On a serious note anybody out to hurt you could easily collect the required information off of Facebook and easily use it against you.

So what can be done to stop this? Well it's incredibly simple - don't accept friend requests from people you don't know. And while I know I will be appealing to the wrong audience here, I believe it is important for us to educate those on the risks involved with accepting unknown people on Facebook as friends - because who knows, one day such information could save a persons life.

Okay so that last bit was a bit over the top - but I don't think this subject is to be taken lightly, so think about the points I've made and please don't go accepting friend requests from people you don't know!

Deep Thought

What is Social Media?

So the term "social media" is thrown around a lot these days as a way of making people think that us designers are clever in the way in which we update Twitter feeds. But what does the term actually mean in terms of everyone involved with it? For some people such as clients, social media is simply another tool in their arsenal, which can be used to get their message out. To others it is a major business opportunity. From the perspective of a designer and developer the term can be used as an umbrella for social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and helps add weight to something that might otherwise sound like a con - that is - "oh yeah and we'll update your Twitter/Facebook profiles every day with news, and that will be £200/$300". So it helps to add value to the work that many companies do, and enables clients to understand that there is a strategy and a plan behind such goings on.

But wait! What about from the perspective of the humble blogger?

To someone new to blogging, who wants to create an online presence and boost traffic to their site, having read a few articles on the importance of social media in today's society, they could think that it's a whole load more work to do which is of grave importance, when in reality it really depends on the site. For instance Chris Pirillo, a successful blogger is constantly tweeting links to articles on his site, but most of the time, these articles aren't written by him, and this really annoys me. Why? Well because if I like and value the opinion of someone, I might then follow them on Twitter, but that doesn't mean I want to be bombarded with links to frankly sub-standard material on their site that wasn't even written by them. But what this does, is drive traffic to his site, so it must be working for him on some level.

So instead of this, how about considering and planning what you will tweet. Instead of tweeting 25 times a day, why not tweet only 5? Or how about only tweeting only when you have something interesting to say? The last one is the one that will get you the most followers on Twitter because people only really care about the information that matters to the person that they are following. Also an important part of the use of social media is interacting with those who engage with you; so if someone asks your opinion on something how about and @ reply? Maybe not to everyone, but bear in mind that people like it when it's a real person behind the picture, not just some robot focused solely on increasing traffic to their site.

Okay, I've written quite a lot there, and I've not even reached my main point, so here it is. I think the term social media should be altered. To me it sounds like a big, bloated term that is only used to impress people. Why not just say that sites like Facebook and Twitter can help build an online presence? At the end of the day, neither Twitter nor Facebook were created with the intention of becoming a "tool" for use by companies, they were both created to help better connect people. So don't dress them up to be something that they are not. Sure a "Social Media Strategy" sounds impressive; but when that just means keeping feeds up to date and interacting with people a little, does it really require such a daunting name?

So by all means tell your clients that you are using social media to get their company noticed, but don't bang on about it! Keep it simple. Keep it informal. And most importantly, keep it relevant.

Deep Thought

Could Facebook groups be a bad thing?

Recently I was looking around on Facebook as you do, and I realized that around 90% of my news feed was full of "John Doe joined the group ... and so did 16 other friends". Now apart from the annoyance this served me it made me think about the purpose behind such groups. One could argue that they are simply the musings and observations of a random person, but I take a more cynical approach. Why? Well I can understand why you might want to protest against racism by joining a group to show your support; but what possible reason could there be for joining a group just to agree with a meaningless statement such as "I want this house" with a photo of a large house? Sure for most people it is just a small thing they do when they are bored. But what worries me is the people behind the groups.

I can understand why, as the founder of a certain group, you might get excited about getting 10,000 members, but I doubt that if your group was for a worthy cause you might make a checklist of what membership number you want to achieve. When creators aim for such high numbers is it just because they want to see that people care? Possible. But as I said I am far more cynical than all of that. Groups that expressly ask you to invite all your friends by copying and pasting some JavaScript code into the URL bar surely have some ulterior motive. What I can see emerging is a sort of voluntary spamming network.

Think about it. If you were to take a handful of groups and add together their memberships to say 1,000,000 people, you would have a good amount of people to spam. If you wanted to spam a certain set of people, you could take student groups and collectively spam them. I can see large shady businesses buying "admin-ships" from the creators of these groups, as to utilize the "Message all members" feature of the groups system. And think about it, this wouldn't just impact your Facebook account, no, because Facebook is automatically configured to email users whenever they are sent a message, and so it would filter down.

Now you might be thinking, yes but all these people could just leave the group. Sure they could. But if the attacks were well coordinated, you could send maybe 10 messages to every account you had access to in a minute? And that's the sort of thing that wouldn't even require a bot network. You could just copy and paste in the spam over and over. You would segment the attacks into a group by group basis and make sure you were targeting the right people.

I would advise you take this idea with a pinch of salt, because I can't see it happening in the near future, but I think it is important for us to be aware that such a network could easily be used to spam people. So what can you do to stop it? Don't join these stupid groups that say "If 250,000 people join I'll run round town naked", only join the ones that mean something to you and that you trust.