So far it's been a tough week for social media enthusiasts. First, referring to a recent suicide by a teenager who was taunted by peers on Bebo, the Archbishop of Westminister, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, warned that sites like Facebook and Twitter can isolate teenagers who come to see friendship as a commodity with disastrous results. Reading his interview in the London Telegraph, he essentially put a smoking gun into the collective hands of social media site, which he apparently does not use.
Second, the US Marines announced a one-year ban on Twitter, Facebook and other social media site as security risks. "The mechanisms for social networking were never designed for security and filtering. They make it way too easy for people with bad intentions to push malicious code to unsuspecting users," a Stratcom source told Wired.com.
Both of these are serious matters and they are not based just on nonsense. The Bebo suicide is not the first such incident. In September 2007, 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide after being taunted by a neighbor girl's mother in a vicious hoax. A little more than a year later, a Florida teenager swallowed sleeping pills, then died in front of a Justin.TV web cam as viewer online watched and apparently taunted him because thy thought it was a staged event.
I would not be surprised to learn there have been other such incidents.
The Marines are absolutely right. They are more than a few bad bugs in social networks. The announcement comes less than a month after a hacker broke into Twitter.com, stole company secret, delivered them to Techcrunch who then published abundant chunks of what was nt meant for public scrutiny. As I write this post, Twitter has been shut down to defend itself from a malicious Denial of Service attack.
This is bad when it is done to a business. It would obviously be a lot worse if it endangered troops. The Marines may recommend that the entire us. Dept. of Defense band Web 2.0 until such time it's security can better managed.
As far as I know there have been no security breeches caused by social media to the US, or any other military to date. Could it happen? Of course it could.
But let's put a few things in perspective. Suicide is the number eleven cause of death in the world, according to the UN World Health Organization, who reported in 2006 that one in every 40 deaths is self-inflicted. In 2000 alone there were one million suicides worldwide, more than the number of soldiers killed in any
war since 1945.
It's worse for teenagers. According to FamilyFirstAid.org, suicide is the third lead cause of deaths among American teenagers, in the US and presumably close to that for the rest of the world as well. It has been on the increase for at east a decade.
And of all the teens using social media in the world, three of them have committed suicide in incidents related to social media. Would these same three young people committed suicide even if there was no social media? We will never know. Should we blame social media for possibly provoking suicides among young people? With all due respect to the Archbishop of Westminister, that would take a leap of faithlessness.
Isolation? The Archbishop claims that social media increases it. I'll wager, he hasn't spent much time using the stuff. He hasn't seen the number of people who in the real world may be taunted and ignored who have found friends online, who have found they are not alone in feeling passions for topics that the mainstream of their peers disdain. Among my most compelling reasons for embracing social media is that it lets us find other people like ourselves and I wonder if that phenomenon has not prevented a few suicides. But then suicide prevention rarely makes the news.
The Marines are a different story. Only our worst enemies would want to punch holes into American security perimeters. Social media can pose a greater threat than say breaches into phones or even email for that matter. Take one single laptop beachhead and you may be able to corrupt an entire network.
I think the Marines have acted prudently. Social Media's explosion has attracted bad guys in the same way that it is attracting politicians. Its where the people are going. It's where you can find voters. It's where you can find innocent people to prey upon. It's where you can flaws in security that lets you inject malice.
Where good people go for honest reasons, you can be certain that bad guys will follow. Yesterday gamblers, swindlers and bordellos followed the Gold Rush prospectors. Today Phishers, spammers, scammers and malicious hackers are slithering into cyberspace.
I think the Marines will return to social media once they figure out how to make it a little more secure. Besides they have little choice. It's where they will find young people to recruit. It's how people in service are sharing videos with loved ones.
The genie is long out of the bottle.Trying to prevent the military from using social media is less likely to succeed than keeping dinosaur fences from breaking in Jurassic Park. Social media has a way.