John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: NZ ignores risks of faceless Facebook

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Businesses are scrambling to build their Facebook profiles as the number of registered users spins past 500 million worldwide, but are they considering the risks?

A feature film The Social Network is on release about creator and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg.

But despite its status as a global juggernaut and cultural phenomenon, Facebook's business and relationships are still largely opaque.

Businesses are handing their brands to a site which has a reputation for being loose with users' privacy.

Defamatory or abusive information can remain online for days and it's nearly impossible to talk to the firm.

Plenty of people have had problems with Facebook.

Radio host Marcus Lush suffered identity theft and Business Herald columnist Deborah Hill Cone was aghast at the elaborate procedures required to close down a profile. (This site might help you fix the latter problem.)

New Zealand technology commentator Peter Griffin had his own problems with Facebook over privacy that led to his dropping out for a year.

He believes that the laissez-faire world of social media is coming to an end.

Understandably, given the number of users, Facebook HQ in Silicon Valley resists talking directly to users.

But Griffin reckons the site will eventually have to appoint people - or a person - in each territory.

Social media has been in the news for issues such as schoolboy hoons organising booze-ups at North Shore beaches.

Nobody can turn time back. But with businesses building on the platform it will need to shed its remaining reputation as a cowboy in the Online Wild West.

BANK ON IT?

The ASB Bank is mighty pleased with early uptake at its new Virtual Branch on Facebook.

It's a world first for a financial service company - and is distinct from its online banking service.

Visitors can openly discuss their financial details in text conversations with ASB staff. The bank says customers on Facebook have the same security protection as the bank's internet banking services.

Let's face it, internet banking hardly warrants a second thought these days. But in my opinion mixing a very trusted brand with one that is often distrusted is downright odd.

There have been improvements to Facebook privacy this year.

But there have also been horrific stories about Facebook's attitude to privacy and its commercial use of information about members' movements.

ASB says 13,000 people have downloaded the Virtual Branch application since September.

Association of New Zealand Advertisers commercial manager Lindsay Mouat is impressed and says it's a sign of the growing push online and into social media with businesses creating profiles on Facebook - which is said to have more than 80 per cent of social media traffic in this country.

Mouat says one of the big issues for business is knowing how much time and resources they can commit to their profile to respond to people who make comments.

Social media advertising consultant Michael Carney says that profiles allow people to address their views about a brand directly - and that has to be valuable for marketers.

CYBER BULLIES

I'm aware of at least one case of Facebook abuse that illustrates anonymity and lack of transparency.

An anonymous errant schoolchild made a false profile about a 12-year-old classmate posting pornography, sexual references and a racial slur. The term "nigger" was used.

The comments were posted from home, so the school was unable to identify the offender.

A complaint was made in a button on the site.

Facebook staff never responded but the abusive false profile was eventually removed - with no correspondence - about a week later.

It was success of sorts, but it was bizarre that the complainant could not talk directly to a Facebook representative and was told to wait for a note from Palo Alto.

Locally there is a salesman attached to a Sydney sales team, who referred queries to a Sydney PR consultancy who could not intervene over the false profile.

Patrick Walsh, president of the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand, says that it had been hard to identify abusers, and very hard where there were false profiles to have them taken down.

Facebook abuse and bullying had probably doubled, there were "hundreds" of cases each year and the scale of the problem was not being recognised.

He said the issue was taking up an increasing amount of schools' time and disrupting classes and harming children's education.

"The disappointing point is parents are oblivious to what is going on. When we tell parents their kids are on Facebook they don't know what their children are doing," he said.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Auckland University senior lecturer in commercial law Gehan Gunasekara says that while some users - especially the young - believe they can say what they want on social media he believed that regulation was catching up and that existing rules were strong enough.

Sean Lyons, development manager for the online safety organisation Netsafe, suggested that the lack of a local representative for Facebook was just the nature of the internet.

He said that social media were improving the way that they dealt with privacy and complaints and that Facebook was treating misuse seriously. The online world was volatile - and a work in progress.

A few years back MySpace was picked as the big social media winner. Inevitably, he said, there would be a new technological advance, by Facebook or somebody else, and that might respond to some of the concerns about privacy and transparency.

HOLMES AND MAU

Two stories caught my eye in last week's Sunday newspapers.

The first, a front page story without a byline in the Sunday Star-Times stated that Paul Holmes had been approached to replace Paul Henry on TV One's Breakfast.

"But the Star-Times understands Holmes will say no because he would have to quit the Sunday current affairs show Q&A," said the front page article.

"Holmes declined to talk," the paper said.

There are good reasons why you would want to hire Holmes for the breakfast role.

But it would be surprising while TVNZ is awaiting its Complaint Committee decision on five complaints that Holmes breached broadcasting standards for his interview with Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly about The Hobbit.

As for Q&A, TVNZ is awaiting a New Zealand On Air decision next month on whether to provide 100 per cent funding for a new series next year.

TV3's top end current affairs show The Nation has also applied and we will know soon whether taxpayers will continue to fund either, both or neither of the shows.

The other media story that raised an eyebrow last Sunday featured celebrity presenter Alison Mau in a strategy to stop the media intrusion into her life with her dance instructor partner Karleen Edmonds.

The Herald on Sunday gossip columnist Rachel Glucina made peace and apologised to the woman she had termed a "prickly fish", a "princess" and "too bloody perfect".

After coffee Ali - who features frequently in the social pages - had been transformed into "endearingly frank, warm and engaging".

- NZ Herald

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