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The Strange and Creepy World of Social Media

by Elena on February 19, 2010

Lego on FacebookEveryday there are new ways to communicate with one another, besides actually sitting in front of someone in person and having an actual conversation.  New social networks pop up each month and frankly it’s hard to keep up.  This past week alone Google Buzz and Chat Roulette made their way into our online world.

These sites have changed the way we market products and ideas, as well as the social interaction of our society, but let’s leave that for the psychologists and sociologists to tackle.  What I’m interested in exploring is what happens when you give free reign to millions of tech savvy users with varying interests and different definitions of what they consider fun?

What about the juicy stuff, you know, the creepy, stalker, addictive part of knowing every details about the people you follow?  Not everyone is poking friendly pokes and tweeting informative tweets.  Don’t get me wrong.  I obviously love social media, what with this blog and all, but I still find it utterly fascinating, and a little frightening, the level it can be taken to.

Chat Roulette

Let’s take a look at the social network phenomenon of the week, Chat Roulette.  For those unfamiliar, with the program, it is a one-on-one text, webcam, microphone-based, chat service where you can talk to people all over the world.  There is a catch of course, or maybe it’s the hook.  The site is literally a social game of roulette because you never know who you are going to get.  By participating you open yourself to brutal honesty from complete strangers who have the option of pressing the next button when they are tired of looking at you.  After you hit that button, you can be talking to a person dressed up as a ninja one minute or someone looking to practice their English the next.  Most of the time however you will probably be nexted quickly, or disturbed enough to push the next button yourself.  Sam Anderson’s article, The Human Shuffle written for New York Magazine, provides an entertaining look into his experience with Chat Roulette.  If you want to get a better idea about this site, this is the article to read.  He describes his first experience with Chat Roulette as taking him back to grade-school filled with feelings of social inadequacy (with all that nexting).  Anderson also goes into detail about some of the conversations he had, as well as the odd magnetic feeling you get driving you back to the site.

Imagine you sign on only to find this guy…

cat suit on chat rouletteWhat is he a cat?  Honestly it could have been worse.  As far as I’m concerned, you’re sorta asking to talk to weirdos dressed up as cats.  It is a game of roulette after all and you never know where the ball is going to land.

Despite the site’s terms of service (Chatroulette does not tolerate broadcasting obscene, offending, pornographic material and we will have to block users who violate these rules from using our service) ask anyone who has tried Chat Roulette and they will tell you otherwise.  Lots of creepers are on it with the sole intention of getting people to expose themselves or frankly just exposing themselves to you.  This brings up worries about child pornography and many other issues that get exacerbated once they enter such social network spaces.  This is one more site parents have to be worried about their kids stumbling upon.

Google Latitude

Google Latitude is a feature on Google Maps that allows you find the approximate location of your Gmail friends.  When you look at the map you can see your friend’s avatar hovering around their location.  It seems friendly enough, allowing your friends to see your whereabouts with the Google Latitude software.  It is brilliant really, Google really thinks of everything.  The question is, do we really need to pinpoint the locations of our friends and family?
Google LatitudeGoogle is aware of the dangers of location data, which is why they enacted privacy settings into their program.  First and foremost you are in charge of who you accept as a friend and you chose the people who can see your whereabouts.  You can also hide your location.  For many this provides a sense of security.  As internet users we have become less anxious about sharing private information about ourselves, but the rule of thumb is that we need to have control about what we share.  As for Google Latitude, it’s not like your friends are going to track you down.  Plus, there is nothing creepy about knowing who is ‘in the area’ and ‘dropping by’ because you saw their little avatar floating around nearby.  Hmm.  This brings me to…

Foursquare

I first found out about Foursquare from the Frugal Traveler at the New York Times.  The reason Foursquare is relevant to a frugal travel post, is that the site encourages people to explore a neighborhood and “check in” to local restaurants, cafes, museums, etc.  The more you frequent a location, the more chances you get to receive prizes and discounts, depending on the location.  You even get badges if you unlock new places and the more badges you get, the closer you are to becoming mayor or an explorer.  Users can make recommendations and keep others updated on what is hot in their area.  Overall the site seems like a great idea for those looking to explore their city, but there is a really big BUT here.  Sure it seems harmless BUT what is the consequence of people knowing your every move on such sites like Foursquare and Twitter?  Glad you asked…

Please Rob Me

The guys on Please Rob Me sure have a sense of humor.  What with listing all those empty homes out there haha.  Making us all aware that if we tell everyone where we are at all times, we inadvertently alert them when we aren’t home haha.  It’s just too funny… isn’t it?  haha…  As it turns out, letting everyone know our every move through various social networks, is not only annoying, but also brings up security issues, stalking, theft, etc.  Some people full of hubris and irrational fear believe that “it will happen to me,” while others brush it off thinking “that would never happen to me?”  Most people fall humbly in between, aware of the risks but not willing to let it rule them.  Of course the guys at Please Rob Me didn’t create their site to facilitate burglary, but rather to raise awareness, ever so bluntly, about these privacy issues.  They certainly got their point across.  So don’t go putting your friend’s personal address on Foursquare in order to get extra points or an online badge.

Please Rob MeFailin.gs

This last site isn’t creepy or scary in any way.  Disappointed?  Don’t worry, it’s still peculiar.  If you ever wanted to know what people really think about you, brutal honesty, without knowing who or where the opinion comes from, sign up for failin.gs!  Why anyone would open themselves up to such candid remarks is beyond me, but some people just want honesty, or the taste of suffering.  Failin.gs’ users ask, “What’s wrong with me?” and people can leave anonymous tips answering that very question.  Since it is anonymous, it allows for brutal honesty without consequence.  If you find any of your friends on failin.gs asking:

“What’s wrong with me?”

You can always anonymously tip them.

“You’re on this site.”

[Disclaimer – Social media networks are not inherently creepy or strange, however the debate of the new ways we interact with people have raised many questions about privacy.  It is a choice to participate in such programs and post as much information as we want about ourselves, and there is nothing inherently wrong in doing so.  But to everything there is a balance and examining the creepy side is just a bit more interesting.]

Image via: Balakov

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Mexico Plans To Restrict Social Networking

by Elena on February 16, 2010

Police in Mexico

Imagine you wake up one morning and suddenly there are restrictions on your Facebook account.  Think of the upheaval when Facebook merely changed its landing page and design, what do you think would happen if users couldn’t sign in at all.  Most people would freak out because let’s face it, there is something about the book of faces that can be very addicting.

The Mexican government plans to implement every social network addict’s nightmare by restricting social networking sites, starting off with Twitter.  Twitteros, users of Twitter, have been causing some havoc in Mexico City and around the country, by creating accounts used to alert people of alcohol checkpoints.  Police in the US have also faced this problem when Americans tweet about the locations of alcohol checkpoints or officers lurking in the shadows waiting to catch you speed.  While this does cause some concern among authorities, users of social network sites like Twitter hardly agree it constitutes placing restrictions on accounts.

Alerting other Twitter users about alcohol checkpoints is irresponsible but not necessarily unlawful.  You can’t arrest someone for telling their friend that they saw a police officer on such and such street, however when you post it on Twitter it reaches a much broader audience.  This is were things get complicated.  In Mexico City the law states a 5 year prison sentence for people who “in any way help a delinquent avoid investigation by the authorities or escape their actions.”  Does this include helping drunk drivers get away from police?

The Mexican drug war creates a much bigger problem for social network sites.  Why you may ask?  Well think of it this way.  Kidnapping and escalating drug violence is on the rise in Mexico.  If a kidnapper is looking to get information about a person they plan to abduct, where do you think they are going to look first?  Where is the easiest place to find information about where a person lives, who their friends and family are, where they go to school or work, what they look like, or where they hang out?  Facebook is a kidnapper’s dream because it provides all this information in an easily accessible homepage.

Scary huh?  The sad fact is that if you have family in Mexico, you know someone who has been affected by the rising violence and crime, in particular near the border.  But the question is whether or not it is necessary to restrict or shutdown these sites as a matter of public safety.  There are plans to set up a police force to monitor Twitter and the like, for unlawful activity or death threats.  While this can provide some peace of mind for some, there is still the fact that drug cartels are known to infiltrate the police department and even the military.  The same problems seem to persist.

If you are unaware of the severity of the drug situation in Mexico take a look at the LA Times’ Mexico Under Siege, which offers interactive maps, statistics, and up to the date news on the ever growing situation.  There are also many horrific stories coming from people who live in these war town areas.  Stories about corrupt military, officers forced to hide and avoid the drug cartels, as well as the fact that police cover their faces for fear that the narcos will recognize them and exact revenge on one’s family.  The fact that narcos are using technology is not new and security experts acknowledge that “drug traffickers have an intelligence network and, as far as I know, at this moment in time it’s more effective than ours.”  This forces law enforcement to become more involved with technology and social media, places one wouldn’t normally imagine police activity would be necessary.

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