I Had One of Those Flashes

Beth Ingalls

Beth Ingalls
October 30
Writer, activist, former Mayor, lifelong Deadhead, and above all else, single Mother to three sons. Killer memoir in the works. Agent needed.


Editor’s Pick
MAY 24, 2011 9:47AM

Nobody Rides for Free: The True Cost of Social Media

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linked in ipo

A few years back I posted a Facebook update declaring my growing annoyance with the “find singles near you” ads that seemed to be multiplying daily on the right side of my profile page. One of my self-righteous “friends” commented immediately: “Beth, you have no right to complain…Facebook is free. You have to take the bad with the good.”

His naïve and short-sighted attitude irked me, but rather than engage in a meaningless back and forth (I try to stay positive and somewhat politically neutral on my page), I’ve been mulling the “free” aspect of Facebook, Twitter and the other networking sites ever since.  

Now that the dust has settled on LinkedIn’s ginormous Wall Street opening, (it was the largest internet IPO since Google and the company is now valued at $8.9 BILLION!), I’m still wondering how users can go on blindly believing that social media is still free. I don’t know about you, but despite the fact that I’ve been using LinkedIn for more than a year, I didn’t get a personal invite to the IPO or a special offer for LNKD Series A preferred stock. That’s because to LinkedIn CEOs, users are not customers, they’re commodities. A commodity is “a basic good used in commerce that is interchangeable with other commodities of the same type. Commodities are most often used as inputs in the production of other goods or services. The quality of a given commodity may differ slightly, but it is essentially uniform across producers.”  Bet you felt more special than that, didn’t you?

As commodities, our value is determined not just by how many of us there are, but by the real price we are paying for social media: the amount of personal information we freely give out over the networks to companies' actual customers, their advertisers. We pay every time we divulge our opinions, our relationship and family ties, our photos, our work history, our likes and dislikes, our emotions, our videos, our memories – and another precious resource, our time.


We all jumped on the networking bandwagon so fast with such exuberance that we threw caution to the wind – not only about what we were putting out there but who we were actually sharing it with.

I really enjoyed the movie, The Social Network. I thought it was damn good entertainment and deserving of the acclaim it received. But how could anyone have watched that biopic and not come to the conclusion that Mark Zuckerberg is the kind of person who won’t be content until he achieves total world domination? He’s brilliant, scheming, ruthless, and clearly living out his master plan. He counts his devotees not in thousands or millions but in hundreds of millions – more than 500 million users across the globe. Of those, half  log on to Facebook in any given day, have an average of 130 friends, and in total spend over 700 billion minutes per month on the site!


king of the world

I know what you’re thinking. What we get out of social media is by far worth the price we’re paying – reconnecting with old friends, networking about job opportunities, staying on top of the latest news trends, building our brands and businesses, etc. I’m not advocating getting out. I love my social media. I just think an “eyes wide open approach” is the wisest course. Everything has a price and perhaps even more importantly, everything has a buyer.

Andrew Brown from the Guardian (UK) put the issue in perfect perspective in a blog post last May titled “Facebook is not your Friend”:

“Ever since money was invented, the people who have made money out of aimless chat have been the landlords, whether they were selling beer, coffee or a space on the web. You may think that your Facebook friends care what you're up to, but they'd drop you like a stone if it cost them money to learn you had just become imaginary mayor of an imaginary town, or even that you had just had a row with your mother and slammed the phone down. The only people to whom that information is worth even a fraction of a penny are those who want to take advantage of it to sell you something you don't need...”

I'll drink to that.

BTW, feel free to share this with your friends. LOL!

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technology, business, economy

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great article. and fitting considering the forum.
Thanks foolin' nobody and Editor Emily!
No such thing as a free lunch, whether the cost is in currency or in something less tangible. I find the implications disturbing, and am glad that I don't engage in giving face or twits. So what am I doing here?!

Your quote at the end hits home. Friendships cultivated online are generally superficial in the extreme. Not always, but most of the time. I think of all the hugs and ♥'s and other nice words bandied about right here at OS. That's all they are, words.
Yes, they want to sell you something. But you know what, Beth? You can just say no.

According to Google, there have been thousands of ads served on my pages here. And only two or three people have clicked on them.

That's how you don't buy something. Don't click on the ad.
Mozilla (Firefox) has an add-on that eliminates Facebook ads and fake 'gifts'. Safari has the same kind of add-on. They are both quite effective at keeping the garbage off the page. BTW I like the psuedonym bit, but how do your real contacts find you? Or is that the point. Classic passive-agressive behavior it seems to me. N
Two important points.

1: Sorkin readily admits that although he wrote The Social Network, he has never actually met or interviewed The Boy Wonder. So while the movie is good entertainment (and it most certainly is) it is not an accurate bio-pic by any stretch of the imagination.

2: Terry Adams of NRBQ said is oh-so-well when he sang, "There Ain't No Free." Too right, Terry. Too right!
Many people don't yet know just how stacked the deck has become. Good points. R
I've never figured out why anyone "likes" a commercial product.
Social networking is the next wall street bubble - just like real estate and before that dotcom.
The first thing that we need to dodge is the "You need this or You should have".
I don't have an ipod or iphone and, I do NOT need one.
There are a lot of these "You needs" all over the place.
Funny I don't feel judged even when some self important idiot tries to judge me.
I am able to effectively sort my wants and needs for myself,
Thank you
"Free" (read: commercial) radio and TV have been around for about 90 and 70 years respectively, and they have operated on pretty much the same business model that many "free" web sites do now. The more things change...
@XJS - thanks for letting me know that I am not the only one that does NOT need an iPhone. And that I am not the only person
that does not buy crap they don't need.
Well done article. I might add that all social relationships exist within a commercial structure: our friends in school, our friends at work, our friends in our apartment building, our friends at the nightclub. In all of those settings, our appearance there is due to our participation in a commercial venture.
Thanks for the thoughtful comments all - OS readers still are full of interesting, provocative and intelligent ideas. Looking forward to being back in the OS forum. It's been a long while!