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PACEspectives: Social Media and Big Data

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As social media companies are increasingly scrutinized regarding the ways personal information is used, our professors weigh in on the complex relationship between social media, big data, and human tendencies.

“You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies” goes the tagline for the 2010 critically-acclaimed film, The Social Network. Eight years later, one could make the argument that Facebook and other social media behemoths have made more than just a few enemies. As the world has seen through questionable data mining and the spread of misinformation, the results of manipulation through these platforms can be calamitous.

Examining the fascinating intersection between the information economy, business, and the positives and negatives that come with mass human connection, our professors weighed in on the increasingly tenuous relationship between social media giants and big data, and how that relationship might be better prepared for the future.

Paul Kurnit
Clinical Professor of Marketing
Lubin School of Business

Imagine if 87 million citizens were exposed to detailed data hacks. That’s exactly what happened to Facebook citizens…where every one of their Facebook posts and content was intercepted by Cambridge Analytica to be used and abused in any way they might want. Sell the data? Redirect the data? Abuse the data? Check, check, and check.

Facebook wants us to believe their platform is a social facilitator…and, it is. But it’s also a huge media business supported by advertising. Facebook wants it both waysto be seen as a benevolent social facilitator while making huge profits as a major media machine.

It’s all rather curious. Because traditional mediatelevision, radio, and printare strictly regulated for content and consumer protection. Most people presume that social media, similarly, are safe havens. But today, data is currency. Anyone who can sell it, leverage it, or manipulate it has power. Power to influence people’s points of view, swing an election, or even topple a government.

Following a momentary gasp and a brief stock slide, most people still use Facebook and will post away. Privacy for many is a nice idea, but not a mandatory protectionuntil their paycheck is hacked or their identity stolen. It’s past time for social media to be reined in with real and readily transparent privacy standards to protect users. It’s happening in Europe with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and it needs to happen here.

Yegin Genc, PhD
Assistant Professor, Information Technology
Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems

We expect companies like Facebook and Google to secure our privacy as their users. At the same time, their data can be crucial for researchers to study a wide variety of phenomena. These studies in turn improve our lives. So, I think these companies need to make sure the policies and processes to share data address these seemingly conflicting requirements of privacy and openness properly. This is a challenging task, but an important one. The Facebook incident also shows how we, as researchers, should take non-disclosure agreements very seriously. When companies share their data, they put their trust on us and if that trust is breached, intentionally or not, it has broader implications. I am sure companies will be more reluctant to share data, even in justified circumstances, after the recent developments.