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‘Betrayal to the public’ may end social network sites’ claim they aren’t media companies, WVU expert says

Cohen and Bowman

Elizabeth Cohen and Nicholas Bowman

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Although Facebook and other social network sites claim they are not media companies, Facebook’s recent data breach with Cambridge Analytica could mean those sites will be regulated like newspapers and television networks, according to Elizabeth Cohen, a social media expert at West Virginia University.

Elizabeth Cohen
Assistant Professor
WVU Department of Communication Studies

“I think that this is probably the beginning of the end of days of Facebook and other social network sites being able to claim that they that they aren’t media companies and therefore not beholden to some of the same responsibilities as our press in terms of how political ad targeting is managed. I have been hoping that these companies would be learn to self-regulate instead of forcing legislative hands. But depending on how great the public outcry is against scandals like this one, it seems like they might have missed their opportunity. When we look back on this scandal years from now, I think we will see it as a key turning point in terms of when the public, government, and even social network sites themselves started to ask hard questions about how companies should be allowed to harvest data, who they should be allowed to share it with, what it should be used for, and how transparent any of these processes should be.”

Elizabeth Cohen audio file (1:20)

Contact information:; 304.293.3905

Nick Bowman
Associate Professor
WVU Department of Communication Studies

“Social data mining is a natural byproduct of the Age of Information. In an economy that values personal information more than even physical products, it’s a logical conclusion to assume that every one of those thoughts that we share online—from our favorite book to our latest political tirade—is fair game to anyone willing to listen. Unfortunately, we forget that not everyone who is listening is a close personal friend, or even a person at all. As we live more of our lives on a social stage, it will become increasingly difficult for us to restrict or even own our personal information. The same sharing that makes social media so engaging with friends, is the same sharing that threatens to over-expose ourselves to peering eyes and unexpected audiences. today’s ‘social listening’ is concerning because of the way in which companies listen to us today. Rather than soliciting us for feedback or opinions, our personal conversations—chats between friends and posts between colleagues—are constantly filtered and tagged so that any possibly useful pattern can be sold to the highest bidder, regardless of their motivations for seeking that data. It’s very hard to know when we’re being listened to, because in most cases there are no indicators that anyone but our intended audience is reading our information. Beyond any ethical imperative to protect users’ privacy, there is a real functional one: if folks don’t like that they’re being spied on, they’ll go somewhere else to hang out.”

Nicholas Bowman audio file (0:52)

Nicholas Bowman audio file (0:33)  

Nicholas Bowman audio file (1:11)

Contact information:; 304.293.3905

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary, insights and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise, or college/school/department in the  Experts Database at  WVU Today.



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