Sunday, January 15, 2012

Care needed in social media interaction

THE advent of social media has altered, perhaps irreversibly, people's distinctions between the public and the private.

McCann Truth Central has concluded from its global survey of Netizens that social media has made people share too much personal information online.

This is in practice more than a value judgment or philosophical point, because lowering one's guard to total strangers online has repeatedly led to personal loss and injury.

Too many predators lurk in the wired and wireless jungle out there, all too ready to pounce on the gullible and the vulnerable.

The risks and dangers are obvious; the elaborate scams and seductive wiles of con artists are more virulent than viruses in the system.

What might otherwise have been a better world with advanced communications technology is in reality one in need of much greater care and vigilance by every individual logging on.

The McCann study involved 19 countries, more than 30 focus groups and well over 12,000 online studies.

Its findings of international online communities in general could be particularly true of Malaysia.

A survey released by Accenture last year found Malaysians to be the world's most active social networking Netizens, with 85% of respondents active online.

TNS found Malaysians to be the heaviest users of social media, averaging nine hours per week, resulting in a record 233 social network friends on average.

The problem is that some of these “friends”, or “friends” of friends, are not entirely friendly.

Total strangers easily appear as friends, given the viral nature of social media connections.

No amount of denial by complacent or apathetic industry players can dispel the dangers.

The problems are magnified when many Netizens are young, inexperienced and generally untutored in their many digital adventures.

Use of the worldwide web is thankfully free of undue governmental scrutiny in this country, but that does not allay the prevailing concerns.

For young people at least, prudent parental guidance may be called for.

If parental guidance applies in television programmes, it should be even more pertinent in interactive social media.

Adults would have to settle for caveat emptor: let the user beware.

But where openings for criminal activity exist, they must be closed by the authorities forthwith.

This can be done easily enough without impinging on people's free access to online information.

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