Involvement in social networking has exploded in recent years and the take up has certainly not been restricted to developing economies. In fact, exponential growth in social media follows wherever Internet access is created, with emerging economies leading the charge.
Analysts may wish to gloss this over with case studies of fisherman selling their catch before they reach port, and farmers demanding market price for their crops instead of trusting their traditional buyers, but this traffic is dwarfed by that generated by the likes of Facebook and YouTube.
Not so long ago, first time telephone users were astonished by the simple fact that they could speak to someone a long way away simple by punching a number into a mobile handset. Yet this has been quickly superseded by the sheer elation of being able to find and create friendships with almost anybody in the world, no longer restrained by village boundaries and being able to experience things never before imagined through videos on YouTube.
Some of the side benefits of this brave new world are the increased levels of literacy that simply happen because people have to communicate in the written or ‘typed’ word. Finding information on any subject through search engines follows, and the sheer volume of information available helps increase knowledge.
However, this has created some anxiety for governments that are facing backlash from a recently connected, better informed population base. The very nature of freedom the Internet offers is abhorrent to some regimes that want the economic benefits that Internet access brings, but not necessarily the increased awareness of their own repression that may come with it.
Any message is spread quickly and effectively via social networking channels and what were previously small pockets of dissent can soon become well informed, easily mobilized masses capable of bringing down governments. Even though this sounds extreme, it is possible and it is happening so government are wanting to not only monitor social activities within their boundaries but also to counteract or even eliminate them if need be.
But it is not only fearful authorities that are monitoring social channels on the Internet. In the wake of the Snowden disclosures a number of developed nations have ‘come clean’ about their own ‘surveillance’ activities, primarily under the guise of national security. Canada, the USA, UK and Australia are amongst those claiming the need to keep an eye out for undesirable activities and even terrorist attacks.
Such emotive reasons will rarely generate mass anti-government sentiment but the fear of privacy invasion by concerned netizens is getting the most headlines despite the fact that similar activities are being undertaken by corporations wishing to analyze and understand their customers better, specifically to offer them better service and more targeted marketing.
How can you blame them when you consider how open people are with their lives over social networks? If that information is there for all to see then it seems perfectly legitimate for both governments and corporations to monitor and use them for whatever purpose via a range of tools readily available to them. For individuals, it is a Catch-22 situation - loss of privacy versus greater security and better customer experience. It may be a long time before we find a happy resolution.