Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

Social Media Gets Creepy

Yikes! It's Twitter!

Yikes! It’s Twitter!

As we discussed social media in my branding class, one of my students noted that she was inundated with bridal ads when she announced her engagement on Facebook. That seemed a little creepy – an event in your private life fuels a targeted, persistent ad campaign. Still, with the new rules of Facebook, it’s not unexpected.

A few months ago, I wrote a brief article about Twitter‘s ability to identify your location and your relationships. In turn, that information could power an innovative (and free) package delivery service. The delivery service sounds like a good idea, but the fact that Twitter can identify your location with such precision and immediacy seems a little creepy.

On Saturday, I read an article about college admissions officers. They’re now using social media to understand their applicants better. In some cases, they’re using social media to reject applicants who are otherwise qualified. You could be ready to go to the school of your choice when they discover that you’re a bit of a jerk and decide that you’re not the kind of person they want in their school.

If I applied for a job, I would expect the human resources department to check me out online. That’s appropriate due diligence and doesn’t seem creepy. But to check on teenagers as they apply for college? That seems creepy. They’re teenagers; of course they say stupid stuff. It’s creepy to expect them not to.

Then I read an article in Technology Review that assesses how software will soon be able to assess our personalities via our tweets. The goal is “to go below behavioral analysis like Amazon does,” says an IBM researcher. “We want to use social media to derive information about an individual—what is the overall affect of this person? How resilient is this person emotionally? People with different personalities want something different.”

If all goes well (?), the software will review your Twitter feed and assess your Big Five personality traits: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience. It could also score your values (hedonism, conservatism, etc.) and needs (curiosity, need for harmony, etc.).

And what would they do with all this information? Target ads at you, of course. If advertisers understand your individual psychology, they can tune their messages and their content to your individual needs, emotions, fears, and desires. It’s like food engineering that’s designed to keep you eating, except that this is designed to keep you buying.

It’s creepy enough that advertisers can use your inner self to sell you stuff. But what happens next? Will potential employers assess your personality via Twitter? Will college admissions officers reject you because your Twitter psycho-scan says you’re needy? Now that’s creepy.

So, I’m wondering — as social media becomes creepier, do you feel like you’re being stalked?  At what point do you think social media crosses the line and becomes too intrusive? Will any of this change your social media behavior? Let me know.

One Response to Social Media Gets Creepy

  • We’re all tracked in some way by the choices we make, both online and offline. Social Media is just part of the whole. Every time we adopt a technology that we can personalize, click a banner ad, or do a search on Google, we send a message back to the owners about our likes, dislikes and other traits. We are not a “person” to them, but a “target”. I wonder how long it will it be before we become like the people in “Feed” by MT Anderson, where everything is run by corporations, the internet is supplied by a chip in our heads, and ads are fed to us nonstop, shaping our decisions, opinions, and even our moods.

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