A lot has been written about the “danger” social media poses to companies and brands, but what about the real threat it poses to us as individuals?

Immediate, transparent, global, free communication is one of the most breathtaking information advances since the telephone. But when there is an opportunity for human corruption, there probably WILL be human corruption. Here are the biggest threats posed by the advent of social media:

Risk to personal security. For fun, I follow a few celebrities on Twitter, the digital Post-it note. The other day, one of them tweeted: “Down at Gino’s having a pizza with my boys.” Earlier in the day he had established the city he was in. With this kind of shoot-from-the-hip public broadcasting, it’s only a matter of time before we see the first Twitter-related crimes. Even for non-celebrities, how safe is it to post to the world, “My husband and I are off to Boston for the Web 3.0 conference.” Not very … unless you want your next post to be “Our house got wiped out by crooks while we were away!”

Risk to public safety. People are easily duped and through social media, we are creating the most effective rumor mill in the history of mankind. We caught a small glimpse of the destructive power of viral misinformation when rumors of swine flu being caused by eating pork spread around the globe in a nanosecond. The innocent pork industry is still recovering. Numerous experiments have shown the ease of planting falsehoods that become reported as fact, even by legitimate news agencies. What happens when a sinister prank goes out of control and creates a panic far beyond a loss in pork sales? It will happen. What can prevent it? Nothing.

Risk to personal finances. Every time you register for a site, sign up for an app, or populate a social media profile, you are adding to a databank all about you. Strangers can find names, birth dates, family members, school and work history, e-mail addresses and much more. One blog writer recently quipped, “Honestly, it doesn’t take a genius to steal a person’s identity online.” Even more severe than identity theft and the obvious financial ramifications for an individual — we will begin to see online crimes being committed under the alias of another person.

Risk to personal reputation. Thankfully, nobody was holding a video camera in my face during my college years. But the lives of today’s youth are explicitly documented on You Tube, blogs, photo albums, and social media sites, creating a permanent online record. One corporate recruiter told me that a web search is more important to him than a resume. How will your Google-image affect your future job prospects, personal relationships, political aspirations? Did you read about the teen girls who took pictures of themselves in their bras at a sleepover, texted them to friends and then hours later ended up on porn sites? How do you erase something like that? Google never forgets.

Risk to data and information. A few weeks ago, a computer worm, using Twitter, infected tens of thousands of computers as it replicated itself across the Internet. The worm was created by a 17-year-old to “expose the vulnerabilities” in Twitter. The red-hot social networking/microblogging service has been scrambling to plug cross-site scripting and other Web site vulnerabilities to thwart worm attacks but, as one researcher points out, it’s much easier to misuse the Twitter API as a “weak link” to send worms squirming through Twitter.

Risk to personal health. Neurologists and doctors warn that obsessive immersion in screen technologies and social network sites will lead to short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize, weight gain, and a tenuous sense of identity.

Risk to personal productivity. A friend recently told me that he needed to find a way to block himself from social media sites at work. “I’m hooked,” he said. “I can’t stop myself from getting online every minute that I can.” According to a U.K. study, British firms are losing $264 million A DAY on lost productivity due to undercover activities on Facebook. Businesses are starting to look for ways to deal with the social networking problem. Several companies in America already block social media sites.

So, where does this lead?
I’m a fan of social media. These new platforms have connected me to countless interesting people, opportunities and ideas. The purpose of this article is to serve as a counter-point to those who seem to be hypnotized by the hyperbole and beat the drum of social media while ignoring these certain consequences. There is virtually NO dialogue on the risks of the inevitable corruption that will result from having a free and pervasive window into YOUR life.

I’m hoping the dialogue will start now …

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