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The Age of Lost Innocence

Posted on 07 Feb 2012 at 23:50 pm by Yeoh Siew Hoon
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I can’t help but think that the age of innocence in social networks is over.

Remember that first day you set up your Facebook account? It was so cool. A way to connect with real friends, to share with them what you liked, what you were doing.

And then it grew and people you didn’t really know wanted to be your friends and now, your news feed takes as much time to get through as reading a newspaper, maybe more. It’s interesting to see what different people use it for – some to moan, some to soapbox, some to provoke thought, some to share humour, some grief.

Remember your first tweet? Cool, right? How to say something smart in less than 140 characters ... now everyone’s re-tweeting whatever comes across their 5 seconds of attention-span bandwidth. 

But how do we know now that a tweet is not just a tweet but is paid for by some company to some personality to endorse their product? 

And how do we know when a review is false? In Ireland, a hotel group was recently hauled to court for encouraging its staff to write positive reviews for its hotels. 

In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority has said that “because reviews can be posted on the site without any form of verification, TripAdvisor must no longer claim that all of its reviews are honest, or even from real people”.

It told TripAdvisor “not to claim or imply that all the reviews that appeared on the website were from real travellers, or were honest, real or trusted”. 

This led co-founder Steve Kaufer to defend his baby saying, "Of course, there are a small number who try to post false reviews. We target, catch and penalise those that do. But no site could guarantee that every single contribution is 100% accurate. Indeed, this would be true of any organisation, online or otherwise, verified or not, taking views from consumers. In reality, the impact of these attempts is negligible because they are drowned out by the vast majority of genuine voices that make up our community.”

In Japan, Yahoo! Answers became the latest web service to be plagued by fake contributors in Japan.
According to this report, corporate giant Jalux, which operates a bento lunch box business out of Haneda Airport, was accused of employing a company to post comments under the guise of a variety of independent web surfers. Last year, Japanese restaurant recommendation site Tabelog also had its rankings manipulated by paid review posters. It claimed that at least 39 companies were involved in the practice.

And now of course news of the week, month and months to come – Facebook going public in May with an estimated valuation of US$100 billion. What is Facebook selling? Our personal data. Our likes and dislikes. Our updates.

What's on your mind? Well, we could all be thinking if we have been suckerberged.

We willingly surrender personal data, share all that we are doing, reading, drinking, eating and thinking, so that he can sell advertisers the right to sell to us. All of us are now social, mobile targets for advertisers.

It’s bad enough getting those calls from banks in the middle of dinner offering you money you don’t have to spend so that they can make money off you or from real estate agents who want to know if you’d like to vacate your premises soon.

Because, trust me, this is the year a lot of companies will be buying ads on Facebook (see related post) to see if they will lead to actual conversion, not just generate more conversation. 

So we will have more messages aimed at us at every part of our social journey. Get on Facebook in the morning and you’ll have ads offering roti prata (if like me, you constantly post food photos). Around lunchtime, you might be offered beauty treatments because everyone, including Ryan Gosling, does not look good in harsh daylight. And just as evening sets in, when people’s thoughts turn to “what should I do with myself tonight, I don’t wish to be alone”, ads targeting singles might pop up. This morning, I learnt that “real millionaires are looking for real women in Singapore”. I reckon I am as real as it gets but really, real?

And is it my imagination but lately I’ve seen an increase in the number of ads offering me knee and back pain treatments. Perhaps they’ve guessed my age (even though I don’t reveal my birth year) by the music I post online?

Personally I am not sure if these ads work as I haven't bought anything on social media platforms but then maybe I am not of the Millennial generation who, according to this report, would tend to rely on the kindness of strangers more than I do. The old question was, will people buy where they socialise? Today, it seems to be you socialise where you buy. Just as the boundaries of work, life and play have blurred, so too the idea of commercial and social spaces.

I guess if we all thought about this deeply and what we are actually surrendering with our sharing, we’d all be frightened. But like all inconvenient truths, we’d rather not, and so we continue sharing because, guess what, we are all hooked, aren't we? It's become part of our social fabric. There are some people who believe that Facebook will become the place from which we never leave (like a Hotel California) and we will do everything within it. 

It reminds me of a patient who went to the doctor and he said, “I think I have a pain in my arm.” And the doctor replies, “Well, don’t think about it then.”

Because if we did, we would have to ask the question, does it really enrich our lives or will it enrich only a handful of people?


 

Tags: Facebook , IPO , false reviews , TripAdvisor , privacy
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