Social Media: A Two Headed Monster
By Paul Morrone CPF®, CPA/PFS, MSA
Have you ever picked up someone else’s phone and saw the content in their social media feed? I’d argue it is the most transparent portal into someone’s private life, interests, hobbies and preferences– which is a scary thought depending upon how twisted your mind is. Those that share a Netflix or Hulu account with a friend or family member are likely astounded when they see how different the recommendations are for each user, based largely upon past content they have viewed. It is amazing to think about how well the services we use get to ‘know’ us. This points out an even more fascinating fact: artificial intelligence has gotten so good; it’s scary.
Take my social media feed, for example. I’m an open book when it comes to what I like and what I don’t, so someone who knows me well will likely not be surprised when they see a plethora of pictures or articles about cars, driving, food, booze, travel, football, golf and finance. It makes sense, these activities/hobbies are what I daydream about, spend time researching and consequently, where I choose to spend some my hard-earned money (well, what’s left after a mortgage, daycare, healthcare, utilities, taxes, etc.).
I may be in the minority here, but I have to say I don’t really mind it. Don’t get me wrong, I still find it creepy when it feels like my devices are listening to me (sorry, Alexa, Google and Siri – not in my house!), but overall, I’d argue it makes my social media experience a bit better. I’ve filtered out all the nonsense I don’t care about or don’t want to hear about, removed the politically polarized content, unfollowed the people that annoy me and now find myself with very little information that I don’t find of interest.
Believe it or not, I’ve benefited in many ways from leveraging my social networks. The connections I’ve made on social media have been invaluable in providing me with guidance on household or automotive projects that I’ve undertaken. It has allowed me to solicit feedback on products or DIY topics before buying anything or getting my hands dirty. These outlets (credit YouTube) have been instrumental in helping me troubleshoot issues on everything from programming the HomeLink system on my car to putting together some of Kyle’s toys (some of which are way too complicated!). I’ve been able to identify some incredible savings opportunities and learned how to maximize my credit card points by following others who willingly their stories of success. Heck, I even sold my last car because of a Facebook post! Don’t get me wrong, there are always the haters and the trolls, but it’s best just to scroll past and pay no attention to them.
At the end of the day, of course, it is all about someone making money, and I do believe there is a harmless nature in companies soliciting their products or services on social media, many of which are really cool and not available at your traditional brick-and-mortar retail outlets. But product sales are only one side of the story, unfortunately, the other is far more sinister… which I’ll tackle now. There is a very valid counterargument to all this data and information sharing. I’m not naive enough to ignore the fact that all this valuable data I’m providing by engaging socially isn’t being used to generate profits, or worse, that makes me a target to receive politically motivated advertisements, articles about conspiracy or content designed to change my beliefs on social issues. There is a real problem with how our personal data is being used, which is a topic that currently has more questions than answers. I’ll let Congress handle that one…
Social media can, if used (ironically) socially, bring us closer together as a society. If it wasn’t for Facebook or Instagram, I would likely not have had the chance to watch some of my friend’s children grow up over the past year, would not have found some rare or expensive car parts, would not have been able to travel to Hawaii in a cost-effective manner and certainly would not be able to share some exciting moments in my life with friends and family that I can’t see on a regular basis during these (yes, I’ll say it…) ‘challenging times.’
It does make me want to leave you with a word of caution. Be careful what you read, who you follow and what you share. There are a myriad of ways this can backfire against you – because remember, once your post makes it to the internet, there is no going back. Your personal information is the target not just of advertisers, but of hackers and other predators of all types who will do anything from spoof your email to steal your identity, or worse. I’ll spare you the hypothetical conversation about big data and whatnot – I’m not going down that rabbit hole – but let this serve as a friendly reminder to (as they say in just about every alcohol commercial these days) enjoy (social media), responsibly.
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