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Social Media and Social Media Monitoring : the Chicken and the Egg

Julian Assange, Eric Snowden, and their ilk showed a blissfully ignorant populace that they were being watched. In the US, a vast amount of news attention has been given to the National Security Agency (NSA) and their records of private citizen correspondence. These revelations have given way to a torrent of paranoid bloviating, of a politically paranoid variety. What most Americans seem unaware of is the extent to which their social media interactions are being watched by non-political (at least not directly) entities.


The wintry-haired Assange famously called Facebook an “appalling spy machine” back in 2011. Whether or not you agree, the implications of this statement went largely over the heads of most of the Zuckerberg company’s users. They failed to realize (unlike many of you readers) that their social media behavior is observed by monitoring companies that report to brands and organizations all around the world. For these users, Facebook is a place to talk with friends, share ideas, and post pictures of their cats. For the world of Social Media Monitoring, Facebook is a place to check the pulse of the zeitgeist. The “tone” and “attitude” of millions of users is reported to brands and governments, to give them a sense of how real people are reacting to their thing.


It makes sense that it is best of regular Joe’s don’t think too much about strangers observing their Social behavior. But all this begs the question, was Facebook always this way? When did this phenomenon begin? It is impossible to know the extent to which Mark Zuckerberg anticipated today’s SM monitoring industry, but one has to assume he knew it was coming long before Facebook starting reaching critical mass in the mid-2000s. In this chicken/egg scenario of this spy/social network, Zuckerberg’s original intent can be hard to identify. If the cinematic dramatization of the story can believed, and he built the thing to spy on girls, then it would seem that Facebook was operating as Both from the very start.


While hundreds of millions of users remain unaware or unbothered that their interactions are scrutinized by marketers and politicians around the world, it makes one wonder if online communities can ever be both large-scale and private. The fringes of the internet have been the home to large communities like 4chan for years now. Users post thoughts anonymously, and without filter. A slew of new apps have enabled us to interact and even find love, all in secret. The past year’s headline-grabbing tales of the Dark Net and Silk Road have made online anonymity something of a mainstream notion. But still, few seek it out, continuing instead to trust in the very public giants Facebook and Google. Things will likely continue this way, as social media monitors will find social media, wherever it happens.


In reality, human interaction has always been this way. We never simply talk. We scrutinize, judge, make personal assessments, adjust our behavior. To see this played out on a massive scale can be intimidating. But in reality, it is just one of many normal human traits cast on the huge screen of the internet. David Byrne famously sang “Same as it ever was”, and this is always true. For social media marketers and social media users, the future will continue to be the same, in new and unimaginable ways.