In 2008, the sociogeek study asked respondents whether they would post specific pictures on their profiles. The results – partly shown below – are far from surprising: the more compromising or private a picture is, the less likely it is to be shared. Despite many claims of the contrary, Sociogeek showed that social media users are deeply in control of their image. They do not show who they are, but what they want others to believe they are.
Nobody shares, everybody projects.
Now another factor will likely accentuate this projection phenomena: the fact that social media data is increasingly used to quantify and measure who we are. It is already happening in finance, where Facebook data is used to calculate whether a person is creditworthy:
Facebook data already inform lending decisions at Kreditech, a Hamburg-based start-up that makes small online loans in Germany, Poland and Spain. Applicants are asked to provide access for a limited time to their account on Facebook or another social network. Much is revealed by your friends, says Alexander Graubner-Müller, one of the firm’s founders. An applicant whose friends appear to have well-paid jobs and live in nice neighbourhoods is more likely to secure a loan. An applicant with a friend who has defaulted on a Kreditech loan is more likely to be rejected.
There is an interesting cat and mouse game looming on the horizon:
- Social networks need users to be as truthful as possible, as they live off advertising. To target ads effectively, Facebook needs to know what people really like, who their friends really are. Social networks want us to share, not project, as the relevance of their ads depends on the quality of the information they have.
- When Facebook data becomes a way to calculate credit ratings, users are pushed to manipulate their data, befriending people from rich neighbourhood, liking luxury brands, anything they think will make their ratings go up. Users will be pushed to project an image, and not share the reality of their life.
Overall, we see two very contradictory forces emerging, one pushing for more transparency, the other for more opacity. What will happen once users start to “strategize” their facebook presence? How will data scientists separate a true like from one made with a specific goal in mind?
Here is the big question if you are Facebook: what do you gain from giving access to users’ data, and what do you lose? What if allowing the calculation of credit ratings was offsetting the possibility to target ads effectively?
That is a key question I would really carefully look at if I was Mark Zuckerberg, to make sure Facebook doesn’t end up being a network of shadows geared at getting Klout perks and other benefits.