A few words on social media and why it is evil

I usually try to post only technical articles on this blog, especially articles which are related to SQL Server and databases. This one is a bit more general, even though the topic of data warehousing and analysis comes up a few times.

Lately I have been thinking about the social media and its role in our social context. Can’t really help it – I have to share a few thoughts.

Let me first mention that this blog post is not necessarily about Facebook, nor Google+, nor LinkedIn in particular. By ‘social media’ I mean ‘any public medium of computerized source where the user may choose to spill personal information, feelings and intentions’.


What is wrong with that. Well, a few things.
Lack of personal choice – it is true that creating a profile or account in the social media is voluntary (aside from the peer pressure, of course). It is also voluntary to post updates, picures, opinions and intentions.

From the point of view of a database specialist, let me make a comment here:

The rule number one in database warehousing is: never ever ever delete any data.

Having said that, we come to the point where it is voluntary to share your urges, but once they are shared, they are not yours anymore. Once shared, they are owned forever by the database owner (remember the old warning: only the written words remain forever).

And since databases are generally written to disks, the disks also retain the data even if the data is deleted later on. (I will not go in details here, but keep in mind that deleting a file from a hard disk does not always mean that the file is lost – there are many ways to recover it anyway.)

So, no matter what you do, as soon as you click the ‘Post’ button, you are stuck forever with admitting (and committing to) your statements.

Here is another comment from the point of view of a database specialist:

The rule number 2 of the database warehousing is: since you never delete any data, then you’d better do something with it!

So,  what’s there to do with all this data?

Trend it. Trend it good. Sell it. To whomever seems interested.

And if you don’t have enough buyers of the trended data – make sure to collect some more data, until the buyers become interested enough.

And here is how it goes: you post your opinions, likes, dislikes, your location, gender, line of work, the list of your friends and your social circles. Then the data is collected and trended, some of your browsing history is also collected and trended. The trended data is fed to a powerful rich uncle, which works most likely in the marketing sphere. As a result, the next time you visit your favourite social media you get targeted by advertisement. The data of this advertisement targeting is also collected (how long you stayed on the page, did you hover over the ad, did you click on it). The trending yet again is fed to the rich uncle who will refine the advertisement targeting next time.

So, it turns out that you kinda work for the rich uncle without being paid.


Another aspect of the social media is its layout in our daily timelines.

I.e.: it sucks up your time – it is a strange feeling, but sometimes people get more involved with posting their statuses than with their daily work.

Let’s suppose that you spend 1 hour per day actively using the social media sites. This is just about 6% of your waking hours.

Where does this time come from? Where does it go?

Does it come from your work time? Does it come from your sleep? (I.e. do you sleep less or work less to compensate for the 6% social media overhead?) Or do you account it as a relaxation?

And it really gets scary when you scale it: 1,000,000 users of the social media spend 1,000,000 active productive man hours on posting their statuses, opinions and intentions. PER DAY. (And this is in a best case scenario – I personally know people who spend much more than that.)

And the funny thing is – I don’t think that the romans would have built much if they had social media at the time.

And the Ottoman empire would not have destroyed as much – oops, I mean – acquired as much territory if there was social media data to be trended and analyzed by the surrounding lands.

And so on…

Getting back to the topic of trending and analysis of the social media data.

Social opinions trending – not necessarily correct, but almost there.

Recently it has shown that it is almost impossible to watch CNN or any news channel, in that matter, which does not quote data analysis from the social media.

For example, when there is a social disturbance, the social media immediately trends and reports the general opinion and the estimated participation level.

So, I guess, the social media makes it easier to handle – if you know what the social opinion is and if you know how many participants are sharing the opinion, then actions can be taken before the problems escalate, or maybe even some ideas can be prevented from propagation.

Wait a second: wasn’t this somehow mentioned in 1984? Or am I dreaming?

On the bright side, the social media is not accurate (and it never will be) in measuring the social opinions, trends and intentions, since it measures only the opinions of the subscribers, and not of the society.

Unfortunately, the above statement is not openly discussed and never put in a disclaimer when the social media trending is quoted.

Furthermore, the social media provides APIs, which give users the opportunity to create applications and to perform actions on behalf of the members of the social media. In other words, an application may actually post a status message (an opinion or even an intention) on behalf of the users and then the trending may be skewed.


So, let’s recap: the main activity of mankind nowadays is to create a vast collection of trended information, opinions and intentions, thus creating (almost) predictible societies.

Why not!

After all, the world problems which are not solved yet are not solved because noone really wanted to solve them too much.

Think about it: people wanted to go to Mars and by wiorking hard it was accomplished.

The poverty, starvation and lack of education, on the other hand, in big parts of our planet, though, have remained unresolved and poorly addressed.

It’s all about priorities.

Think about it.




5 comments to A few words on social media and why it is evil

  • Geoff Hodgkinson

    Yo Feodor, stop “working” and accept my Farmville invite

  • josh robinson

    it is indeed 1984.. the difference is that we’ve chosen it, in 1984, it was by inaction that The Party came to power.. but then, there was no way to verify that as The Party controlled the information as to what the past was like.

    We’re getting there.. as much as being a BI enables business there’s some very tricky ethical corners to watch out for.

  • I’m not sure I agree. I’ve seen this type of analysis a few times, especially recently talking about how Facebook is evil and making money off of you. You could say the same thing for blogs, most of which are hosted by some company that also potentially owns your thoughts.

    However this analysis assumes, or seems to imply, that the user doesn’t get anything out of social media. Sure you can post in a vacuum, with no one responding, but there is a large social interaction piece, which returns some value to the user. Facebook and others make money because of the aggregate of information, not the individual, but each individual that subscribes to another’s updates, or posts their own gets some value. We have a great SQL Server community on Twitter, with debates, arguments, kudos, congratulations, and venting taking place. Those are all positive values that we could get in person, and many of us do, but not for a 5 minute break while we work or sit on a plane, bus, etc.

    It’s always a choice to either improve yourself, entertain yourself, or sit and ruminate in the spare time you have. Social media has a place, like many other things, in moderation.