10 Things social media companies do that should freak you out. Privacy is dead.

10 Things social media companies do that should freak you out. Privacy is dead.

We’ve all been following the congressional hearings where Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg was grilled for two days after the massive Cambridge Analytica data breach. We have heard of the many incidents all over the world where social media companies have been accused of all kinds of nefarious tactics to keep us all hooked on social media. Privacy has become a hot topic and it’s time that we fully understand what they are doing.

Here are ten things that social media companies do that you probably didn’t know about. And if this doesn’t freak you out, nothing will.

  1. They specifically show you posts in your news feed that will anger you. 

Yes, they don’t like it when you’re happy. They want you to rant. People that rant also share a lot. People that rant create controversy and controversy generates lots of activity on their platforms. More activity results in more ad views. The loss of privacy results in more ad revenue.

  1. They love fake news. 

Despite all their denials and posturing, social media companies thrive on fake news. Without fake news their revenues will be halved in a matter of days. This is because fake news is always sensationalist. Sensationalist news attracts viral behaviour and that results in more ad revenue. That is why most fake news sites exist. It’s not to try and influence elections, although there are some with a propaganda agenda. It’s about money. Fake news sites create fake news so that they get many people reading and sharing. People click on their ads and they generate revenue.

  1. They track you wherever you go. 

You can do whatever you like to try and prevent this, but it’s built into the OS. The incestuous relationships between the various companies guarantees that they share data with each other. There have been numerous tests where brand new phones were used and where the results conclusively proved that you are being tracked all the time. They call it Geo Targeting. They know where you are and where you were, 24 hours day. The only way to get past this is to switch off your phone, and some people claim that won’t help either. They use the tracking data to customize advertising. Most people don’t even realise the creepiness of a McDonalds ad appearing in their news feed the moment they are within 10 km range of a McDonalds drive-through. The loss of privacy has moved from the digital world to the real world.

  1. They keep everything. 

You can do what you like but they keep every bit of data they collect on you. You will never know how detailed and comprehensive their profile is on you. You can delete your account, but it won’t help.

  1. They track you online.

You don’t even have to be a Facebook or twitter user to be tracked. They do anyway. They do this through tracking cookies that are embedded in the websites you visit. Almost every website on the internet has sharing buttons from Facebook and twitter. Behind these buttons are programming code that passes information about the visitor to the companies. They don’t own these websites, but they gather information on all their users. So even if you are not a Facebook user, your identity will be an IP address and unique browser identification. As you move through the internet the social media companies track what you click on and where you go, building a profile of your habits. At some point you hit a website where you are logged in and where that website shares your data with Facebook or twitter and bingo! They can now connect the anonymous users browsing activity that they have been gathering with a real person, who’s data they bought from the website.

  1. Google is way more invasive (or evil) than Facebook or Twitter.

Google is the big daddy of big data. They practically invented internet social engineering on gigantic scale. Every website in the world is indexed by google and almost every website is connected with programming code to Google analytics. This code is added by webmasters on websites under the auspices of providing the webmaster with analytical data so that they can improve their websites. It also provides reports on numbers of visitors etc. but in fact, this code is nothing but spying software installed on a website that allows google to track you everywhere. Google analytics passes data from a website you just visited to the next website you visit thereby tracking you wherever you go. They do this so that when you visit a website they can show you personalized ads. So, this morning you visit amazon.com to check out the latest tech gadget and this afternoon you read your news on your favourite news website and voila! What do you see? The same gadget from amazon that you were looking at earlier on amazon. Now this seems innocuous but consider the ramifications. They know when you go to a political website. They know everything you do. All the time. And then they show you ads in line with your habits. Not just ads, but articles and stories as well. They are the great enforcers of confirmation bias in the world.

  1. They read your email.

They can deny it as much as they want, but there are just too many coincidences. Too many studies that prove that they do. These companies work together, and they give each other access to your data. Facebook reads your email. They were even sued in 2014. If you send email using Gmail then Facebook has read the contents of that email even before it arrives at the recipient. You send and enquiry to your travel agent about a trip to Disney world and later in the day you visit Facebook. What do you see in your news feed? A Disney world ad.

  1. They read your WhatsApp messages.

Facebook recently acquired WhatsApp. Why did they do that? There’s no money to be made from WhatsApp on it’s own. They purchased WhatsApp so that they can know more about your private life. They want to know what you are saying to your friends. This is where you discuss plans and share information about all kinds of things. You discuss with your friend on WhatsApp that you are looking at buying a new car and within seconds you will see that new car advert on your news feed, websites about that new car will suddenly appear on the top of the organic search results on Google and your Twitter feed will be miraculously sorted to show relevant tweets. In fact, you will receive email spam messages relating to your planned new car purchase. Everything to get you to buy from their advertising partners so that they can get a piece of the cake.

  1. You can never be forgotten.

Google recently lost its case in the EU about the right to be forgotten. Basically, this means that you should be able to ask Google to delete all your data so that when people search for you on the search engine, they find nothing. This is a meaningless verdict because the data is spread over millions of servers across millions of companies. You will never be able to exit the web of data that has been weaved around your identity. Short of changing your identity of course. When you agreed to the terms of service of these companies you sold your privacy forever.

  1. And we leave the best for last.

They listen to your real-world conversations. This means that while you are having a real conversation with friends or family in your house, they listen to you. All the time. They do this through your phones. When you install Facebook you give it permission to access your microphone be default. The microphone is always, activated and then they transcribe the words you speak and pick out the keywords. These keywords are then used to serve you personalized ads. Sounds farfetched right? Not at all. Siri already listens to you. So, does google now. You can speak to Siri and Siri will understand you. Facebook’s AI is vastly more advanced than Siri. You have a conversation with your spouse this morning and a few hours later an ad relating to your topic of conversation miraculously appears on your news feed. Think this is fake news? Nope. I have tested it myself and there have been many experiments that prove this. Facebook has obviously denied it vigorously. But of course, they would.

Just a pity no-one raised this question at the congressional hearings. Mark Zuckerberg can be glad I wasn’t there to grill him. We would still be busy today.


Facebook and the Law

Facebook and the Law

I manage a few Facebook Groups and a number of Facebook pages and I am constantly confronted with the issue of defamation on social media. As social media becomes more popular and ubiquitous the issue around defamation has received quite a bit of public attention. Unfortunately many people still don’t understand how social media works, jurisdiction and how South African law views posts and comments on Facebook.

I have been involved in social media and online marketing for many years and have studied the laws pertaining to privacy and social media in detail as it affects my work on an almost daily basis. What follows is an attempt to demystify the concept of social media defamation. I am not going to deal with privacy issues and will leave that for another article.

The innocuous looking case of H v W which was handed down in the South Gauteng High Court on 30 January 2013 is the best and most recent case we have to determine how South African courts interpret cases of social media defamation. Judge Willis’ 30 page judgment recognises the harm a Facebook post can do to a person’s reputation and throws the weight of the Court behind the person defamed (and who can afford the legal fees). In this particular case the defamation was clear and the applicant won the case.

The law the Court relied on

The lawyers involved in the matter conducted what appears to be fairly substantial research on the law on defamation online and with reference to Facebook. Judge Willis relied fairly heavily on two academic articles by –


Resolving the tensions between every human being’s constitutionally enshrined rights both to freedom of expression and to dignitas is all about balance. In the case of Le Roux v Dey Freedom of Expression Institute and Another as amici curiae) the Constitutional Court emphasized the need to take into account the context in which a publication occurs.

Similarly, Grimmelmann has referenced the legal maxim de minimis non curat lex which Judge Willis translated as “the law is not concerned with trivia”.

Businesses and defamation

With respect to public figures and businesses, he pointed out that while they enjoy a right to privacy, “[t]here is legitimate public interest in the affairs of public figures” and this means that they may not enjoy the same degree of protection as citizens not in the public spotlight when it comes to defamation online. As Judge Willis put it –

Trenchant commentaries on the performances of politicians as politicians, entertainers as entertainers, musicians as musicians, artists as artists, writers as writers, poets as poets, sports stars as sports stars will generally pass legal muster, even if posted in the social media. When it comes to freedom of expression in South Africa, there are oceans in which to swim and upon which to sail as freely as the wind blows.

A customer of a business will always have the right to publish on Facebook an account of her experience at that businesses. As long as the experience passes the test of defamation then it is not defamation but a review. Reviews can either be positive or negative and negative reviews, if made by a customer, cannot be classified as defamation because it is in the public interest and to the public benefit.

If individuals can be sued for making a negative post about a business, of which they are/were a customer then Facebook, Google, Tripadvisor, Booking.com and many large websites will cease to exist. Reviews have become a de faco means of expressing one’s opinion about a product or service.

The test of defamation

The test for determining whether words published are defamatory is to ask whether a ‘reasonable person of ordinary intelligence might reasonably understand the words . . . to convey a meaning defamatory of the plaintiff. . . . The test is an objective one. In the absence of an innuendo, the reasonable person of ordinary intelligence is taken to understand the words alleged to be defamatory in their natural and ordinary meaning. In determining this natural and ordinary meaning the Court must take account not only of what the words expressly say, but also of what they imply’

Referencing one of the justifications for (or defences to) defamation, namely that the defamatory material be true and to the public benefit or in the public interest, Judge Willis drew an important distinction that is worth bearing in mind –

A distinction must always be kept between what ‘is interesting to the public’ as opposed to ‘what it is in the public interest to make known’. The courts do not pander to prurience.

Important points to consider when you feel that someone (not you) has posted something that could be defamatory.

  • South African law does not require a person to be the originator of the defamatory content to be held liable – merely repeating or “sharing” a defamatory post is sufficient to constitute defamation;
  • a person may be equally liable for another person’s posts where that person knows that they have been tagged in the other person’s post and allows their name to be used, and fails to take steps to disassociate themselves from the defamatory post;
  • a series of comments or posts published via social media may have a defamatory meaning when read together, despite each comment or post appearing individually harmless; and
  • an apology on the same social media where a defamatory statement has been made may assist in mitigating the damage to a person’s dignity and reputation.

The Truth is On Your Side

Ultimately, you have every right to leave a bad review or make a negative post about a business, as long as you act in good faith and don’t lie. The difference between a legal negative review and an illegal one comes down to libel in many cases: “While defamation laws can vary depending on the jurisdiction, libel is the defamation of a company or individual in written form,” explained TekRevue. “To prevail on a libel claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a published statement about the plaintiff that was false, injurious, and unprivileged.” 


Marthinus Strydom




Businesses Beware Of Consumer Activism

Businesses Beware Of Consumer Activism

What a cheek! You know the feeling. You go to a business and all you get for your hard-earned cash is poor service. Afterwards you realize you’ve wasted your time and your money. Your’e annoyed and irritated because you didn’t get what you expected. What do you do?

Some people go back to the business and complain. They tell the manager about the bad service and perhaps the business tries to rectify the problem by giving them their money back. That was what happened in the past but today things are very different.

The digital generation dislikes confrontation. They are connected with the world and their anger and disappointment is voiced through all the social media channels they have access to. Today, people don’t like to confront businesses about their bad service – they Facebook, Tweet, Foursquare, Instagram, Linkdin and Pinterest. If you are a business owner and you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about then you are in trouble.

You see, in the past people didn’t have these outlets for their frustration and they confronted a business directly. Today, by the time a customer has walked out of your shop they have told their average 3,000 connections almost immediately, and these social media interactions are having a much bigger impact than you might think.

A business has one chance to impress a customer. People don’t want to complain anymore in person because it takes too much effort. It’s much easier to bitch in 140 characters and press the send button. The result is almost immediate punishment for poor service. Whether you like it or not, this is the reality of today’s connected consumer.

Consumers have become much less tolerant of poor service. Time is valuable and most people have busy lives. They don’t have time to have protracted arguments with businesses about their service or to give them lessons in customer retention. Consumers give their money to business in good faith and expect good service. Nay, they demand good service.

Businesses that understand this and embrace this new reality actually benefit from it because they do what they are paid to do, give good service, the first time. They ensure that no customer leaves their premises if they’re not happy. They do it right the first time. The result is that they get the positive Tweets and the good social media comments. They get the mentions and 5-star ratings. They get new customers that read the raving reviews.

Here are some interesting facts about how Social Media affects purchasing decisions:

  • Consumers are 71% more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals.
  • 53% of consumers who said they use Twitter to recommend companies or products in their Tweets, 48% bought that product or service.
  • 15,100,000 consumers go to social media channels before making purchase decisions.
  • 49% of consumers use Facebook to search for restaurants.
  • 74% of consumers rely on social networks to guide purchase decisions.

The immediacy that Twitter offers has made it a firm favorite with consumers looking for fast responses to customer service queries.

Just today I walked out of a restaurant in a small town and before I reached my car all my friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, connections on Linkdin and followers on Foursquare had read about the good service I received. Many hundreds of people that will visit the town sometime in the future will see my commentary and it will influence their decision to go to that restaurant or not.

Businesses need to take their customers very seriously, much more so than in the past. The digital generation has a zero tolerance for poor service, and rightly so.

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