The deep dangers of a wide social media presence

Hugh Farrell

The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has made internet users question how their personal data is being used

Social media marketing is perhaps one of the most intelligent ways to advertise as it already hosts such a massive database. 

People began by signing up for websites like Facebook to share cat pictures with friends, to communicate for free and to play Farmville. Slowly, the information that they had been drip feeding Facebook began to lead to a database like no other.

Facebook is the prime example of this reality. The social media site currently has 2.2 billion monthly active users. Facebook holds a massive amount of data on its users including in-depth knowledge of housing type, finances, relationships, items you own, medical information and your location and movements. Beyond that, it not only has the ability, but the need to target users accordingly for its survival as a business.

The brilliance of Facebook though, is that while its users see it as a free way to share their lifes with others, it also harvests information to sell to anyone willing to pay for it. While the advertising alone may seem somewhat sinister, the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal has proven that the extent to which a user’s information can be accessed surpasses most people’s expectations.

The question is; does the idea of a larger following mean that some people are in more danger than others? In the recent Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding trial, despite being found not guilty, the duo have potentially lost their careers due to the personal messages between them and their friends.

The personal messages in a WhatsApp chat became evidence in the case and due to the manner of these texts, the duo were told that the IRFU and Ulster Rugby would not take them back for the foreseeable future.

Despite their being a petition with over 4,000 signatures to reinstate them, their messages becoming public in the pursuit of justice have endangered their careers. While their messages have not proven criminal wrongdoing, the nature of these messages will be a massive PR issue for the teams should they return to the club.

Even when your data is inaccessible, your online posts could potentially be dangerous, regardless of your number of followers. For example, in 2013, a PR executive at IAC not only got fired for an insensitive post, but only found out after a large amount of strangers on Twitter told him.

Justine Sacco was boarding a plane to South Africa when she posted a racist tweet. During the flight, the tweet spread far beyond her 170 followers, and by the time she landed and got access to her phone, she had received a multitude of texts and emails, including one from her manager firing her.

The nature of your data and messages can breed risk regardless of the expected reach or social media following. While a larger following may cause more issues in certain circumstances, anything on social media can be accessed no matter how private it is intended to be.

Hugh Farrell 

Image credit: Max Power