paidContent - Inside Word: Why Pervasive Lying On Social Networks Is A Big Problem For Marketers

This story was written by Joseph Tartakoff.
The Inside Word is a weekly feature that looks at compelling industry debates and discussions unfolding on the blogs of employees at digital-media companies.

Poster: AJ Kohn

Blog name: Blind Five Year Old

Position: VP of online marketing at

Backstory: Facebook continues to post astounding growth in the ranks of its users. Just this week, the company said it had added 50 million users in about three months. But in a blog post Kohn says that the value of all that data—and that on other social networks as well—may be limited for marketers.

Blog post: “Id argue that people are more likely to lie in social situations and that the relative distance created by the Internet also increases peoples proclivity to lie,” he writes. “The real threat to Facebooks plans lies in incomplete or downright inaccurate personal information. The problem isnt the actual issue of privacy, but the reaction to privacy. The heightened awareness that your personal information might be available to the highest bidder leads many to change their behavior… At a minimum, many simply reduce the amount of personal information they share moving forward,” he writes. Contrast that, Kohn says, with the user data pulled via some other forms of media. “This isnt a magazine subscription or a warranty-card submission—things that have roots in a commerce transaction. Commerce serves as a safeguard against pervasive lying. You cant receive that magazine if your address isnt correct.”

Post-script: We asked Kohn how pervasive the problem was. He said it was difficult to tell. “There are a lot of indicators but nothing that is quantifiable. It’s anecdotal, from MySpace accounts to fake blogs (a woman who claimed to be pregnant with a disabled baby, etc.) to bogus Twitter accounts. I think it’s somewhat similar to lying on a resume. How many people check to see if you really went to that school? It’s all self-reported. And those are just the factual parts of a profile, nothing about interests or opinions.”

So what can social networks do to make their data more valuable? Higher-profile privacy settings, like the ones Facebook introduced recently, can be problematic, since they are “simply raising the awareness level, which might create more lies by omission,” Kohn said. “The lifespan of your content is the one thing that does help with honesty. Your posts and Tweets, etc., live for a LONG time online. You might delete things but they crop up in Google’s cache, or they’ve been captured via screen shots in someone else’s blog post. So, the indexability of all this social content is the one part that might help encourage honesty, but only if someone identifies the lie to begin with. It’s a lot like speeding, we might catch people, but only the big and flashy offenders.”

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By Joseph Tartakoff