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Earlier this week I received a tweet, from a buddy of mine, someone that I know offline and just happens to be on Twitter. He sent me this link and asked my opinion, as someone who has worked on the web for a long time. He wanted to know if stalking via social media channels like Twitter and Foursquare was common. Until reading this post, I had heard stories, but always in a game of telephone, friend of a friend way. I hadn’t seen a first hand account until now. It puts a sobering sheen on the social media world. It isn’t all Old Spice Guys and Lol Cats anymore. We’re definitely not in Digital Kansas anymore.
The link was to the blog of a woman, with a pretty scary story of being stalked on Foursquare. She was out to dinner with some friends, and checked into the restaurant. A short while into the meal, she received a phone call, on the restaurants phone. It was someone who had seen her Foursquare checkin, knew what she looked like from her photo, called the restaurant, and described her to the waitress. The conversation they had is at a minimum very creepy, but can easily be construed as threatening as well. The stranger ended the conversation by saying “You probably shouldn’t be telling people where you are on Foursquare, should you?”
That’s the big question. Should you be telling people online where you are? If you had asked me the question earlier, I would have said share away; sharing is the driving engine behind the social media world we’ve created. After reading a first hand account of social media gone psycho, I’m not sure.
I check in on Foursquare everywhere. I’m a Twitter-a-holic. You can hit any of my lifestreams and figure out where I am in a second. I’ve had many strangers approach me over the years, with lines like “I saw you tweet that you were here, and recognized you from your avatar” or “I saw you were also checked in here on Foursquare.” These interactions have been some of the most positive experiences I’ve had from being on the web. I’ve met cool, smart people, made new friends, and learned a lot about how connections are made online, offline and where these worlds intersect.
I’ve never had a creepy encounter like the one described in the blog post. Then again, I’m a 6’1” guy who lives in Brooklyn and knows how to throw down. Are the issues different for women? Are the issues different for younger people? Is there an issue at all, or is this a case of one maniac ruining a good thing for everyone else?
I don’t have the answers, and location based social media technology is still very much in its infancy. Will we see more of this type of behavior, as services like Foursquare and Gowalla grow their user bases? I’m not an alarmist, but the numbers say we probably will, human nature being the sketchy thing it is.
I want to know what you think. Do you know other first hand stories of people being put in uncomfortable or dangerous situations through social media? What are the best ways to stay safe using location based tools, without losing the positive benefits? Is it even possible. This is a discussion all of us in the industry need to have – sooner rather than later.
Michael Dolan is a geeky strategist and pr flack who invents fun ways for companies to get the word out. He’s been behind the scenes running the online show for a lot of companies you’ve heard of, since a dial up modem was required to access something called ‘the internet’. His social media games and wacky hi-jinks have been extensively written about by the tech and mainstream press. He’s a loudmouth jerk that calls Brooklyn, New York home. You can find him on Twitter @EvilPRGuy or hire him to make you famous through The Blog Studio.
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