Consider …

When the financial system collapsed, the national spotlight turned to banking practices and regulations.

When drunk drivers could slip through the system and get  back in cars to injure or kill innocent people, a national movement was created.

And when the safety procedures on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig failed, plans for offshore drilling came to a grinding halt under the glare of public alarm.

All it takes is one crisis, one crime, one whopper of an oil slick, to change public perceptions forever.  What does this have to do with marketing?

Here is the first prediction I’ve ever made on this blog: In the near future, we will have a social media crisis that will turn enough negative attention to the social web to arouse public alarm to the point of a backlash and perhaps even legislation. It will be our very own oil slick.

Specifically, I believe there will be a crime or tragedy that shines a spotlight on the incredible flaws and dangers inherent in the social web. Perhaps it will be a Foursquare stalking crime.    Maybe new research will emerge that demonstrates the shocking effects when teens live their lives through text messaging.  Perhaps a significant database or privacy fail.  A Twitter-delivered virus?  Or perhaps it will be a financial scam that dupes the elderly … the fastest-growing population on Facebook.

There have already been several documented cases of social-media-related robbery. One U.K. woman was recently burglarized after posting that she would be attending a music festival.

We can look to recent events in South Korea as a precursor to what might happen in the Western World.  A 28-year-old South Korean died from his video game addiction. The man literally killed himself through exhaustion-induced heart failure by not stopping game play long enough to sleep or eat. So the South Korean government is responding with legislated curfews on video games. The gaming industry has an oil slick.

Facebook is teetering on the edge of a privacy disaster. The social network has come under fire for a series of recent changes to its policies that have limited what users can keep private, as well as embarrassing technical glitches that exposed personal data.  And yes, privacy advocates have called on regulators to intervene.

So far, the benefits of the social web have outstripped potential dangers. But when will the line be crossed?

What’s your opinion on this?

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