Social Media Offers More Than We Care to Know


By Samuel Greengard

In the days when people actually sat down and talked to one another face to face, at least three topics were considered largely off limits: sex, politics and religion. Today, in the detached arena of social media interactions, it seems as though anything and everything goes.

You can't view a Facebook feed without encountering someone's opinion about Benghazi, guns, immigration, IRS tactics, religious persecution, pet adoption and accordions. In many cases, you're also likely to learn way too much about everything from their underwear to their unwavering belief in UFOs and medical marijuana. It seems that for many of us, there's no social media post left unwritten. Naval gazing and narcissism have become the new normal.

But there's a major problem with this approach. Any individual post or update is relatively innocuous. Unfortunately, over time, we begin to learn more than we care to know about our friends, acquaintances and colleagues.

Frank thinks it's okay to own AR-15s and opposes universal background checks? Mary supports Obamacare? Bill believes that 9-11 and the Boston Marathon bombings were government plots? What are my friends and co-workers thinking!

Over weeks and months, it's possible—and actually likely—to find something wrong or disturbing about all sorts of supposed friends. Oftentimes, we begin dialoging with them in the hope of "educating" them about the "right way" to approach the topic.

This, alas, eventually leads to low-level bickering and then full-fledged online arguments. Then there's the "We'll have to agree to disagree" phase, followed by demoting the person's posts and eventually defriending or unfollowing him or her in a huff of rage.

There's always been a fine line between sharing and sharing too much. The online world easily transforms this problem from an anthill into a Himalayan peak.

Business and IT executives should think about this when they're designing enterprise social media systems. Although it's impossible to completely avoid stepping on the toes of others—this problem extends into the physical world as well—a bit of separation and privacy is generally a good thing.