Social networking - it’s like the age old adage “can’t live with it, can’t live without it”. The launch of Google+ was hailed as the successor to Facebook upon its launch. Within four weeks of opening its doors to the public (by invitation only) Google+ amassed 25 million individual users. The most apt description I have read about Google+ described the networking site as “it is like having Facebook - but without the fourteen year old kids”.
But, as with all seemingly perfect new and shiny toys, there is a down side to Google+. Google+ has come under criticism for requiring that its users register with a legitimate, legally recognised, full name. While this may not seem to be all that much of an issue to us in nations that have pretty relaxed censorship laws and fairly basic internet monitoring, residents of nations that have heavily monitored and controlled internet access are put at risk because of this.
Imagine if the organisers of the Libyan revolts and protest had to register to Facebook and YouTube with their legitimate, legally recognised, full names? They’d have been hunted down like a starved bloodhound hunting for its next meal.
While online anonymity does provide us with the freedom to do as we like on an special interest forum, medical forum, and other such mediums, it does also provide people with the power to do harm. Anders Behring, the Norway shooter, was a member of several online groups that participated in online battles, was a gun enthusiast, and had supposedly mentioned once or twice that he would like to shoot people. Now, if he was forced to register with his real name and was monitored then maybe the Norway shooting’s could have been avoided. But, in reality, the amount of internet traffic that exists makes this almost impossible.
I do see the harm in people creating fake profiles on Facebook and Google+, but at the same time I can see the benefit for some people. Google+ states in its user policy that you cannot register with a nick name. Why not? If I’m known as a particular name in the real world, why is it not acceptable for me to be known by this name in the online world? I have several friends who have their nick names listed as their middle name, there is no harm in having Heart-Throb, No-Skillz, Ron, Zandy or whatever other name you are known by to your friends. These people, after all will be the ones you are connecting with online.
As more and more people connect to the internet we need to look at self-regulation. From a PR perspective we need to look at how people will interact with brands, campaigns, announcements, and the likes of all other work we will do. If someone is in agreement with the Carbon Tax, but feels they will be ridiculed for expressing their opinion online and fears repercussion in the real world, they can make an additional account to express this view then move on with their life. While on the other hand, a PR agency that is handling the latest Jet Start campaign may get praise and congratulations from its target market who may be more inclined to use their real identity.
Another reason, Google claims, that it has implemented this policy is to aid law enforcement agencies in the situation where online illegal activities have occurred. Is it really that difficult for the cyber crimes unit to do an email trace, and IP address search, or any other the other various means they have of tracking down cyber criminals? What did they do before Facebook and Google+ existed, look for people’s names through the phonebook?
While we are told we need to keep our profiles on private and only share our information with people that you actually know and trust because the next time you apply for a job your prospective employer may Google search your name. That reason alone is enough to make me change my Facebook name to something ridiculous. I haven’t got anything to hide on my profile, but it’s simply a case of misinterpreting something and hey presto, you didn’t get the job.
Anonymity online has numerous advantages and disadvantages. The way we use these traits is what makes the online world so interesting and a challenging environment to cater to, and to actually reach, considering how saturated with media it already is. The Sydney Morning Herald recently featured an article on online anonymity’s death, you can read it here - www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/death-of-anonymity-online-has-net-users-fuming-20110905-1jtda.html
The developed nations of the world are set to be facing some interesting challenges in the coming decades. We’ve got an increasingly higher aged population who will be claiming a pension of some description from the government as their main source of income, this issue coupled with one of the lowest population growth rates Australia has had in recent decades, and then we team these factors up with rising health costs, inflation rates, financial uncertainty and global financial crisis’ that look like they’re going to become a regular thorn in our sides. Throw all of these ingredients into a blender and we have a stressful situation for Gen Y.
China, technically classified as a developing nation, is facing these issues with us, but on a much larger and far more dire scale. Nicholas Eberstadt, of Foreign Affairs Magazine, says that China is going to have it tougher than the rest of us because “a doubling of the number of senior citizens, a shrinking of the younger working class, and rudimentary social welfare and pension systems incapable of coping with the massive imbalance.” China and its people are going to be facing an interesting challenge, one that will be quite difficult to solve.
China, as of March 2011, has 120 male births for every 100 female births. By the time 2030 rolls around 25% of the Chinese male population will be unable to find a wife, not from a lack of trying, but because there will simply be no women to choose. While it is simple to say they should look at marrying women from other nations it isn’t that simple. Chinese people hold high family values and it is expected that they marry into a well respected Chinese family.
Another obvious solution would be to lift the one child policy, but then we come to the previous situation where families go back to having four or five children and not being able to provide for them, or for families already living in densely packed cities where do they house their additional children, in the roof?
China has an ageing population, a growth rate of 0.5% (compared to Australia’s 2%), and a shrinking workforce. If they can find the solution to this problem that Australia will be inevitably be facing very soon, they should be so kind as to let us in on the secret.
We can sit here and say that it isn’t our problem today and hope that some other person will come up with a solution for the future. But maybe, just maybe, we should start planning for a “worst case scenario”. I personally don’t want to be one of the Gen Y-er’s who inherit the problem when I’m 40 years old and the rate I am taxed at has been gradually increasing at a disgustingly high rate for the last 15 years to support an older population, a health care system that needs to be resuscitated and a global financial situation that will probably make the 2008 - 2010 GFC look like child’s play.
China’s situation is no doubt going to be worse than our’s, but their situation will also affect us because once their tax rates go up to support an old population, their wages will have to go up, and seeing as Australia loves to import cheap products produced by cheap labour from China, we’ll have to start footing the bill for their increased wages.
The future of the world is looking pretty grim. I suggest the International Space Station heads to the news agency and picks up that lotto ticket. Fingers crossed!
Steve Coogan, actor and comedian, was a guest on News Night recently. He was accompanied by Greg Dyke, media executive and veteran journalist, the two media greats united to confront and tear apart Paul McMullan, former News of the World features editor, who admitted to bribing police officers for information.
Coogan presents numerous valid points, in particular I agree 100% when he says that News of the World claimed they were hacking people’s phones to expose corrupt organisations, dirty politicians and people who could present themselves to be a danger to the public, but in actual fact they were hacking the phones of regular every day people and celebrities just to find out who is sleeping with who, which celebrity will be at which location and various other tacky tabloid newspaper tactics.
As a, somewhat, respected newspaper, shouldn’t somebody on their staff have stood up at their weekly progress meetings and said “hey, this isn’t right. What we’re reporting is not news”. But nobody did. One of the worst things about this whole incident is that journalists who worked for News of the World and had absolutely no role in the phone hacking will now have a tarnished reputation simply by association.