Saturday, March 27, 2010

Local Online Social Behavior and Internet New Media

This group of Loudoun Blogs represents a wonderful and unique cross-section of the life and business of Loudoun County, VA, and is a very straightforward means for residents and business owners to participate in local community dialogue through “social media”. Like other communities, there are also lots of other Loudoun-centric online forums out there – on individual blogs, bulletin boards, on Facebook and LinkedIn, in Twitter streams and Wikis; thousands of Loudouners discussing topics from pizza to economic development. It’s growing consensus that identifying yourself (vs. anonymity) is much more helpful in achieving respect and social prominence on the web – but revealing your “personally identifiable information” (PII) is a two-edged sword.

Hopefully, most of us using social media (or any other communication method on the Internet) understand how and why PII should be protected. The spammers, criminal elements and virus distributors don’t need much of it to make your life miserable. Most mainstream social media tools do make it very easy to engage in online discussions, protect your sensitive information (like home address and phone), yet reveal enough about yourself to legitimize yourself as a trustworthy, contributing social networker.

A fast-growing issue, however, is that the PII under your control isn’t the only way to identify you. Your online activities and behavior may be sufficient to identify you, regardless of whether your name or other identifying information is actually available. We’ve all probably seen some of the ugly underbelly of social media, i.e. questionable behavior or plain nastiness thrown around by those foolish enough to be public about it (note to Loudoun County Schools – you really need an updated Staff and Students Social Media Policy). However, according to this New York Times article (thanks Anakam 2FA for passing this along), along with all kinds of programs underway by our Federal Government for Homeland Security purposes, it’s increasingly obvious that your online behavior leaves a durable, easy-to-identify trail behind.

So the message to the Loudoun business community in particular is, your choices of social media tools, forums, topics and profiles to leverage is only the setup – the online discussion and relationship-building behavior that follows is the slam-dunk.

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