Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Facebook giveth, and Facebook taketh away

As we become more social on the Internet, it is inevitable that the online world have more, and more influential interactions with the physical realm. And sometimes that interaction can be quite amusing. Take these two stories:

Facebook Bullies SNL


It seems that the fame of Superbowl advertising combined with a fanbase spanning 3/4 of a century - some of them aware of the power of online social networking - can lead to a gig hosting Saturday Night Live. On "an Improvised Blog" Jason Chin reports that SNL may have Betty White host, or co-host, a "Women of comedy" night. And according to an article he links to on Entertainment Weekly, it's at least partly because of the Facebook group, Betty White to host SNL (Please?)! Quite an accomplishment for a Facebook group - not only to be noticed by, but to influence guest host choices for SNL. And for the worthy cause of having Betty White host the show.

But it's not all happiness and light:

Nickelback Loses Facebook Popularity Battle To Random Pickle


It seems that Nickelback's reputation on Facebook is in a bit of a pickle. Or has been pickled, or something. AllFacebook.com reports that a woman named Carol Anne decided she could one-up Nickelback and created the “Can this pickle get more fans than Nickleback?” fan page. She started the group on February 3rd, and on February 19th - just over 2 weeks - she topped Nickelback's 1,428,801 fans. As of 12:00am February 24th, the pickle has 1,478,755 fans.

What does this have to do with privacy and security? Nothing, directly. It's more of something to provoke thought. The Betty White to Host SNL (Please?)! page was started around January 29th and gathered 400,000+ fans in roughly 3 weeks. It apparently influenced SNL to consider Betty White as a host, and has actually generated more interest and hype than her official Facebook page.

The Pickle that beat Nickelback's Facebook fans garnered enough fans in two weeks that, if it were to record an album and sell 1 copy to each of it's fans it would have a platinum album. If only slightly  more than 1/3 of it's fans were to buy, the album would still be gold.

In a sense these are extreme cases - but looked at another way, they are atypical, but not extreme at all. Online social networks can be used to create change, something entertainers have vaguely realized for some time, and something that no politician has really gotten until Barack Obama's campaign. The Internet made communication and collaboration between universities and corporations easier. The World Wide Web made it possible for the common man to quickly and cheaply made his voice heard, and social networking has made it possible to ignite worldwide passion for a cause in less time than it took for Paul Revere to ride from Boston to Lexington in 1775.

This isn't bad, and it isn't good. It just is. How we handle this new power to mold and shape opinion determines the good or bad of it. It can be used for good - look at all the aid for Haiti generated through Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, not to mention all the websites that facilitate donations for Haiti relief. Look at families who haven't seen each other for years reunited. But look also at the careers ruined because of careless or malicious posts online and the predators who use the web as their playground.

What I'm trying to say, and what I want people to do when they're online is, think about what you're doing and what it may lead to. You may still decide it's the best course, but at least you won't get caught flatfooted if it blows up on you.