Social Media Notebook - Oh, the online places you'll go...or not!

Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD, FAAP

Pain Management, September 2010, Volume 3, Issue 6

Have you heard about Facebook Places (www.facebook.com/places)? It's Facebook's addition to the geolocation landscape of many, many other social networking applications already in existence, such as Gowalla (www.gowalla.com), Whrrl (www.whrrl.com), and Loopt (www.loopt.com).

Have you heard about Facebook Places (www.facebook.com/places)? It’s Facebook’s addition to the geolocation landscape of many, many other social networking applications already in existence, such as Gowalla (www.gowalla.com), Whrrl (www.whrrl.com), and Loopt (www.loopt.com).

You can’t get too far using any application on your iPhone without a screen coming up and asking you if you want to allow that application to use your location. If you hit “allow,” your location will then get tagged to whatever it is you are doing…posting, tweeting, or geolocating.

I typically hit “Don’t Allow.” And, to date, I haven’t tried any of the prior geolocation networks, although I see that many of my friends have. There are a few reasons I’ve resisted so far:

1. Privacy: I desire a clear boundary between my online and offline lives. If I wish for my friends and followers to know where I am for a specific reason, I’ll post that in my status update. I often do this if I’m attending a conference to let others in that city know I’m in town, for example. Plus, announcing your offline whereabouts to your online world could have physical dangers if your privacy settings are not set appropriately. This could be a major concern for teens and young adults.

2. Value: I have yet to see the value in knowing the location of my friends and followers when they post their locations from services such as Gowalla, so I don’t feel that others knowing my location will add value to their ability to know me, either personally or professionally. The connections we have are via our content, not our locations.

3. TMI: I’m sure you’ve noticed this yourself. There is most definitely a trend toward over-sharing online that can be interesting to observe. Sharing locations for the sake of sharing locations falls into that category, in my opinion. We all have busy lives. Do we really need to know that you drank a coffee at Starbucks or browsed books at Borders? That’s what’s happening via these services. These three items add up to the perfect storm for why to not use any geolocating service. I’m just not feeling it!

Kara Swisher of All Things Digital summarized all these issues in her Boom Town Blog recently,when she wrote, “Viral Video: Nobody’s Listening” (http://hcp.lv/9a8W3X):

“There’s been a bit of bloggery agonizing of late about the possibility that no one is listening to the endless stream of sharing via status updates and other social networking tools.

As in, if a check-in falls in the forest, does it make a sound? It’s a good question to answer, given all the effort being put into the social medium.”

You likely have a sizable cohort of patients quite swept up in the social media craze. With Facebook leading the charge, many will be tempted to test drive Facebook Places and geolocate their every move. It’s important that we help them understand that these programs exist so that they can make sure their privacy and safety is what they think it is.

Also take the time to remind our families to unplug and reconnect the old-fashioned way: offline and without technology. Having some private time with friends and family is the only way to help the patients we care for remember why boundaries and privacy are so important…and why technology, while tempting and alluring, places our very humanity at risk of being drummed out of us.

Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD, FAAP (aka “Dr. Gwenn”) is a pediatrician, health journalist, parenting and social media expert, and CEO and Editor-In-Chief of Pediatrics Now (www.pediatricsnow.com), an online health and communications company dedicated to providing reliable information for today’s busy families. She also writes the blog Dr. Gwenn Is In (www.drgwennisin.com).