Granovetter’s weak ties. In reverse.


What am I doing?

Why am I doing this?

How does what I do impact society?

Jumping into “doing” everyday in our jobs doesn’t leave a lot of time to sit back & think upon larger existential questions.

Most of us don’t have to time to eat lunch let alone ruminate upon the implications of our work and its impact on the public good.

Which is why #WSJTechCafe was helpful, convicting, and challenging.  Social media-ites, academics, and entrepreneurs converged upon Think at 14th street here in Manhattan to debate & discuss these very ideas.

Aside from the free latte, what grabbed me most was the social media privacy panel and hearing Danah Boyds’ comments about how these issues relate to inequality.

Danah’s a researcher at Microsoft with lots of stats and research to back her up. But it was this anecdote that stuck (I’m paraphrasing here):

“If a teenager from a disadvantaged neighborhood is looking for a job, they’ll likely be Googled. What might come up? Let’s say this kid has a drug addicted parent. How would an employer respond to seeing a tweet from the candidates’ mom saying “Getting high”.

This is when “guilt by association” comes into play.”

Given all my Salvation Army work – initiatives focused on arts education for the disadvantaged, obesity, and addiction recovery, this is simply an area I’ve given zero thought to. Which is kind of embarrassing since social media is a huge part of my job….

Sure, I think about ACCESS to technology and the disparities between kids who grow up with iPads and those who don’t, but what Danah’s describing hinges more upon social media privacy KNOWLEDGE.

Cause let’s be honest. User settings are complicated.

I know this because I’ve had to show my mom how to make her FB postings private. My mom’s a smart lady. I mean, she wears Warby Parker glasses, is college educated, has FB & Twitter accounts, checks in on Foursquare, writes a blog, and yet didn’t realize her stuff was “public” and accessible to the world.

So how would a junkie know? And how will someone who’s addicted to drugs and not completely aware of what they’re doing on social media, ultimately impact  their own future professional opportunities and those of their kids and their communities? It’s Ganovetter’s “weak ties.” In reverse:

There was a lot of sparring on the panel. As there should be. How much a company should do and how much a user should do is open to debate.

But I’m sympathetic to Danah’s argument that we can’t put all the onus of privacy on the user. Which is why Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra makes some sense.

Technology opens doors but it can also close them. Especially for people who don’t fully understand how their digital footprint can come back to haunt them later.

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