Yesterday a well-reputed Italian journalist aired a program highlighting the risks of the Internet and social networking, interviewing experts from service providers, law firms, consultancies about issues such as phishing, security, stalking, information leaks, and so forth. (see link to video, in Italian).
I did not follow the program until when I read an outcry of angry bloggers, social media experts, consultants, who said that the program was ill-informed and gave a very imbalanced view of benefits and risks of social media in a country that absolutely needs a boost in the adoption of the Internet. It is remarkable that in a country where almost everything is given a political connotation and opposing parties cannot agree on anything, criticisms to the program have arrived from all corners. Also, I do not think we can say that Italy is behind the curve, with almost 18 million registered Facebook users.
Some of those who have been most vocal in attacking the journalist and her program are the proponents of the Italian Digital Agenda, which I commented on a few weeks ago. Interestingly enough some of the discussion on Facebook has been so heavily polarized, that the few who tried to defend the journalist saw their posts deleted by some of the self-appointed experts who keep appearing like parsley on blogs, newsmagazines, TV programs.
It appears that being critical of the Net and phenomena like social media and search, and advising about their risks does not make anybody many friends. One wonders why warning against risks could not be seen as an attempt to train better educated potential clients rather that an attempt at arresting development.
There is no doubt that there are issues to be dealt with and people must be made aware of the risk they and their relatives are vulnerable to, in order to take the necessary precautions.
On a personal note, I am appalled by those parents who believe they are successfully raising their kids, and let those kids wonder on Facebook and other media without any supervision, so that I can see on their (public) walls that they have really questionable acquaintances, drink alcohol under age, or post pictures which leave very little to the imagination. But I am equally surprised by self-appointed social media experts who do not understand the difference between posting something personally or on behalf of their employer, or those who, despite a respectable resume, fight like kids in pissing contexts about who-said-what-to-whom.
As a wrote a while ago, we must not forget the essential principles behind social and professional relationships, the need to teach people – young or uniformed or both – how to act responsibly, the urge to expose the charlatans who claim to be experts of something they barely understand, the importance of “guarding the guardians”.
Opposing and controversial views are helpful to look at both sides of an important phenomenon: they should not be seen as a threat by social media supporters, but rather as a stimulus to do better. Unfortunately this is also a fertile ground for “religious” battles, and the vehement attacks of those supporters is the clearest symptom of the frailty of their arguments.