When Social Media Becomes Malicious

Advertising professor authors “The Dark Side of Social Media,” and offers 10 tips users can apply to be safe

Social media can be hilarious -- as witnessed by the student who went viral after forgetting her bluebook on the way to her first final exam -- and equal parts dark and disturbing as seen in recent trends with suicides and performance crimes done for an audience on Facebook Live.

KFC Twitter Account

Social media’s lighter side:

KFC’s Twitter account only follows 11 people including six men named Herb and the five Spice Girls, poking fun at their recipe of 11 herbs and spices.

With such drama as cyberbullying, trolling, revenge porn, fake news, digital disruption by foreign and domestic groups and the stress of information overload, why do we find ourselves using and sometimes overusing social media?

“It’s a desire to connect with people,” said Angeline Close Scheinbaum, associate professor in the Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations. “For every negative story, you hear about someone who found their birth mother or high school sweetheart.”

Scheinbaum’s research centers on the malicious side of social networks and last summer she penned a book titled “The Dark Side of Social Media” in which she discusses digital drama and unintended consequences for consumers, brands and business. She said in only a year since the book’s publication, an increasing convergence between social media and advertising has led to an escalated feeling of ubiquitous consumerism and a rise in privacy concerns.

“People are realizing that snaps don’t go away on Snapchat, Facebook knows your political and advertising preferences, and privacy and security concerns are a big issue.”

Following Facebook’s data-sharing scandal of 87 million users with Cambridge Analytica and the European Union’s sweeping General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) efforts, the muddy waters of user agreements have led to a barrage of looming privacy policy updates on terms of service across thousands of web-based companies.

“If you were wondering why we’re all being flooded with notifications in our email about updated conditions, Facebook and the GDPR are the reasons,” said Scheinbaum.

In response to these various concerns, Scheinbaum shared a few solutions users can enable to feel safe and more fulfilled in their lives on and offline.

#1 - Model good behavior offline to influence good behavior online by showing empathy and appreciating the opinions of others.

#2 - Learn to spot internet trolls by identifying comments that don’t align with anything stated in a story.

#3 - Avoid clickbait or “shockvertising” and take their headlines and claims with a grain of salt.

#4 - Demand advertisers disclose the source of ads, allowing for transparency in both sponsored news and advertising.

#5 - Go through the privacy settings on your social media channels and review your options.

#6 - Be reluctant to sign in to third-party platforms as it leads to more data sharing and exchange of personal information.

#7 - Perform a social media audit on yourself. Do you mention divisive political commentary or inflammatory language in excess?

#8 - If you’re lonely, join a club or push yourself to meet others outside cyberspace. Digital encounters pale in comparison to real ones.

#9 - Take a break from social media and your cell phone, even if it’s only for a couple hours a day. Make a rule to unplug and allow yourself to be in present time, untethered by devices.

#10 - Reconnect with nature to experience a more balanced life.

“It’s important to remember that digital footprints don’t go away,” said Scheinbaum. “I want us all to understand that every action we have both offline and online incurs consequences.”

Edited by Scheinbaum, the book was a group effort by a multitude of authors including talent from Moody College. Professors Matt Eastin, Gary Wilcox and alumna Ally Doorey contributed to how wearables such as Apple Watches and Fitbits increase the probability of privacy concerns and Professor Scott Stroud and doctoral student Jonathan Henson provided insight into the motivations behind revenge pornography. 

Scheinbaum plans to write a follow-up to her book titled “The Darker Side of Social Media.” This fall, she’s scheduled to teach “Integrated Communications Management” and “Consumer Behavior.”

Marc Speir
Senior Content Producer