Infographic: Should we pay to use social media?

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How attached are you to Facebook? Do you really need your Twitter account? Would its absence from your life leave such a gaping hole you pay cold hard cash to keep it safe? As social media sites look for ways to make a profit we users find ourselves stuck between a panicky rock and an indifferent hard place. Advertisers target our personal information and profiles. Mark yourself as single and suddenly dating sites are everywhere, write ‘Drunk on whisky, lol’ and a famous grouse follows you. It’s draining, loud and depressing.

A startup company called SocialSafe carried out a survey asking 5,000 internet users what social media sites they used and how they felt about their personal information being sold to advertisers –information sold on by our friends Facebook and Twitter.

What the survey revealed was that we users aren’t sure what exactly we’re meant to do about this. Sixty-four per cent of those surveyed said they were unhappy that sites sell our information whereas only 10 per cent thought it shouldn’t be allowed at all. It seems users reluctantly accept that nothing is truly free and sites have to make a profit somehow, if only so that the sites can continue. Forty per cent said they would be annoyed if they lost a chunk of their online presence and an alarming 13 per cent said they would feel devastated. Imagine if anything happened to someone they loved.

The reason behind this survey is SocialSafe is testing the ground for a new service. Would a user be willing to pay to keep their photos, information and wry sideways glances all together in one place, away from the prying eyes of advertisers?

The results in the survey are worrying. The problem here is we take social media for granted. Apparently 37 per cent don’t backup any information on social media. Only 15 per cent say they always backup. We assume the sites will always be there. We use them so much they have become part of us. Someone should check on Google+ and Myspace, flies are gathering at the windows. We are living in our generation’s version of leaving the backdoor open. We’ll look back on these simple times with fondness. SocialSafe could go someway to solving this problem, and it is a problem, but presumably it requires everyone else to join in or it’s just another locked profile account. And where’s the fun in that?

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Graeme Swanson is a writer and journalist. Follow him on Twitter @swansonian.