Social media killing online porn…NOT!!

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Since the rise of the internet in the 1990s, pornography has managed to rule the internet in terms of providing users with constant flow of content. While there has always been difficulty in accurately measuring how big internet pornography is , the online pornography industry is estimated to be worth about $97 billion, and counts for about 13% of website visits in America. According to Top ten reviews, an internet site monitor, a new pornographic video is being created in the United States every 35 minutes. But with the rise of social networks and social media it appears that new internet platforms are overtaking pornography in terms of online popularity.

According to The Economist, an online newspaper, pornography-related web activity is decreasing in America. This has been attributed to more and more people opting to participate in social networking sites such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook.

These advancements then lead to one asking if the rise of social media over internet pornography means that the internet has matured as a medium. After all, pornographic content is often the first to take advantage of new media, from photography to videocassettes to satellite television. “Sex is a virus that infects new technology first,” as Wired put it back in 1993. Once a new medium becomes popular, its usage is usually dominated by porn.”

But one should not make the mistake of ruling out porn because porn will always be popular on the internet. Just because people do not go to porn sites to see or download porn it does not mean that they are not engaging in pornographic material over the social networks. Internet users are realizing that one can get actual sex via social networking instead of settling for porn.

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Most discussions on the social networks are based on sex talk and flirting and according to a study on teens that use social networks 54% of the users spoke about sex related issues online. It’s a fact that social media does not guarantee sex any more than porn does. But it provides the anticipation of sex, the possibility of sex, the idea that you just might get lucky. It’s the premise of porn, manifested in reality.

Social networks also facilitate the sending of users own naked pictures and videos which can still constitute as pornographic material. Social networking sites such as Hi5 which have social groups which allow members of that group to post pictures of themselves naked or interesting so called sexy positions. These groups are however classified and one can only enter through an invite.

The fact that the user is in direct communication with the producer or actor of the pornographic material adds more interest to the experience. So a decrease in the number of visits to internet pornography sites can be witnessed, but this decrease is not necessarily due to a lack of interest but because of the thrill presented by the other platforms in obtaining porn material.

Porn is staying alive

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But one should not rule out the efforts being made to keep porn alive by the major players in the internet porn industry. Seeing that social media and networks have the ability of turning consumers into producers of porn material, the porn makers have acknowledged the abundance of free porn on the internet and have began to make moves towards trying to make a profit from it. One good initiative is StumblePorn, which is a free porn browser which allows the users to customise their porn content. This effort tries to make it easier to search for porn on the internet and hence aims to attract people to download porn because it has been made easier.

Pligg’s content management system has made it easy to establish socially driven sites that essentially replicate all the functionality of Digg. These content management systems have facilitated aggregator sites such as MoSexIndex and socialporn which enable users to get to porn sites easily.

Since one of the major highlight of the social media and networks is the ability for consumers to produce content, the porn industry has also facilitated for online porn users to produce and share their pornographic material. Following in the footsteps of YouTube and how it popularized the online video sharing phenomenon, porn producers have created several sites that let you upload, watch, and share pornography videos. Most prominent of these are YouPorn and PornoTube.

Ultimately the point of this post is not to simply direct you towards tools that let you access free pornography, but is to document how the social media space is maturing. The porn industry is just another example of one more industry acknowledging the potential of social media as a medium for disseminating content and utilizing these various models.

Hackers launch botnet army on social networks

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As the social network audience adapts to new social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, internet hackers are also jumping onto the bandwagon. Twitter has been hit with a variety of phishing, spam, and malware threats over the past few months. According to the Mail and Guardian, hackers are using Twitter to command “botnet” armies to infect personal computers. The hackers are using botnets to post obfuscated code as tweets to spread viruses.

Botnets are a group of computers infected with a malicious kind of robot software, the bots, which present a security threat to the computer owner. Once the robot software has been successfully installed in a computer, this computer becomes a zombie or a drone and is unable to resist the commands of the bot commander. This robot software is also known as malicious software or malware.

Twitter’s appeal to hackers who use these bots includes the platform’s ability to play the odds by routing short, tainted messages to thousands of computer users simultaneously. Because of this ability, unseen malicious code infects machines that do not have firewalls or updated virus protector.

The Hackers are using the Obfuscated Twitter status messages to send out new download links to malware that Symantec (an anti virus protector provider) calls Downloader.Sninfs. This malware does not only make the consumption of the infected tweets harmful, it also creates room for potential harm to those that click on the links on a friends profile.

How they work

Since botnets operate as an army they have different ranks and they work in stages. The malware downloaded by Downloader.Sninfs is known to Symantec as Infostealer.Bancos. This is a password-stealing Trojan which collects passwords and other sensitive information from users of a compromised computer. However, other botnets just seat in hidden files on the infected computer waiting for the bot commander to issue a command. In a research done by the University of California, Santa Barbara, web scientists managed to hijack a botnet army. They managed to collect 70GB of data that the bots stole from users, including 56,000 passwords gathered within a space of an hour.

The traditional way of which hackers control botnets is by using IRC, but botnet owners are always continuously working on finding new ways of keeping their networks up and running, and Twitter seems to be the latest trick.

Although Twitter.com seems to be latest victim, there are plenty of alternative social networking sites on the Internet that could also be used as a similar medium of communication by these hackers. Twitter.com has already taken the appropriate action against accounts being used in this way, including suspending the account used.

Example of a hacker profile on Twitter

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Botnets and Social Networks

A team of researchers mostly from Taiwan has written a Facebook application for the social network that easily turned victims’ machines into bots able to wage distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDOS), as well as other malicious hacks.

The proof-of-concept Facebot application posed as Photo of the Day, a tool that displayed a different photo each day from National Geographic on users’ Facebook pages. But aside from serving up a photo, it was also serving up malware that recruited the victim’s machine into a botnet.

Facebot demonstrates just how simple it is to weaponize increasingly popular social networking applications for social networks such as Facebook’s, which can be written by anyone for the site. Security experts have warned that OpenSocial and other such social networking platforms are one of the weakest links on social networks.

 

How to protect against Botnets

The most important thing to always remember is that the one thing your computer cannot protect against is human error. Individuals need to exercise some common sense to avoid falling victim to spyware or malicious software. This is especially true if you use peer-to-peer filesharing software, and recently social networks and media as this is a notorious channel through which malware is being sent. One should always exercise caution when clicking on links in emails and on websites, and never give out passwords or login details to anyone via email or over a social network site.

Online friends outshine real life friends

250px-YoungCoupleEmbracing-20070508So you decide that you are lonely and bored and have nothing better to do with your bandwidth. Nothing interesting is happening on the news or on your Facebook or Myspace profile pages so you decide to go hunt for new friends online. You discover that an old schoolmate of yours who you never spoke to much at school is on Facebook.

Although you do not share anything in common you decide to invite her as a friend. She accepts and you enjoy the pleasure of chatting to someone new and your boredom quickly disappears. This suddenly becomes a trend and before you know it you have increased your friend list by 20 people within a space of a  month.

There is nothing wrong with having many friends on social networks, after all that’s their purpose; to keep people connected. The question however lies with the moral aspect of having so many people who can be accredited as your friends without you ever sharing a physical bond. Friendship can be defined as an interpersonal relation which can be a relatively long-term association between two or more people. This association may be based on emotions like love and liking, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment.

Online friends have more in common

According to a recent UK MySpace study of over 16,000 social network users, the majority of people interviewed revealed that they had more in common with their online friends than real day to day friends. The study revealed that a good portion of this group admits to feeling more comfortable sharing and communicating with friends online than they do when logged out of cyberspace. 36% of the respondents said they found it easier to talk about themselves online than in the real world, leading them to share more about themselves using technology.

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The question as to whether this sort of behaviour is healthy can be placed for public debate. Social networks allow individuals to create their own ideal identities and purposefully leave out any unpleasant aspects of their character. The majority of the people who use social networks hardly reveal any information about themselves which they view might tarnish their image or character perception.

What is wrong with that? One may ask. Well if one is to hide certain aspects of their life, such as friends and family from another person, can the two people be considered to have an interpersonal relationship?  In reality a person who you do not know well is considered an accomplice and one hardly spends a lot of time chatting to or socializing with accomplices. However on the internet the interpersonal dynamics change drastically, people spend hours chatting and socialising with people they do not even know that well.

Social networks also have the advantage of allowing people the freedom that the real world does not create room for. Forty-year-old men can become a teenagers again. Wedding bands aren’t at all visible in the on-line world. And everyone’s body tends to become thin and smaller when they log on.

Killing physical relationships

In a recent article by Reuters, The head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales raised his concerns about the excessive use of emails and mobile phone text messaging is creating shallow friendships and undermining community life. These sentiments can also be linked to social networks.

“I think there’s a worry that an excessive use, or an almost exclusive use of text and emails means that as a society we’re losing some of the ability to build interpersonal communication that’s necessary for living together and building a community,” said the Archbishop.

So the question still stands. Is having a large number of online friends destroying interpersonal skills or helping those people who are naturally shy and prefer communicating under hidden identities a chance of enlarging their social networks?

Online News video production needs social media support

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Though South African news websites are slowly expanding and improving their production of online video content, they are doing it at a snail pace and they are way behind their foreign counterparts from Europe and America. However, not all South African online news sites are lagging behind when it comes to online video production; The Times online has invested time and money into improving their online video platform and hence lead the pack when it comes to online news video production in South Africa.

But is there really a great demand for online news videos?

In a recent study done in the USA, researchers found out that watching online video was more popular than Facebook and Twitter. The time people spent watching online video’s was also considered to be on the increase. The results of such a study elucidate the fact that online video still has a great following and if taken advantage of, media organisations can boost the traffic and popularity of their sites.

In South Africa many of the local news sites are still experimenting and beginning to define the type of video content they would like to produce. The Times online site has a diverse range of online videos which range from hard news to entertainment videos. However the entertainment videos seem to get more views than the newsy videos.

This raises the question of whether the demand for news videos is low or that the quality and quantity of news videos produced is not sufficient enough to support and attract a large online audience. Most online news sites in South Africa still base their online reporting on material repurposed from their print editions thus forcing their multimedia journalists to venture into more colourful and entertainment related video production. Online video is thus seen as a supporting element to the repurposed material that appears online.

What role do online video sites play

One can argue that online news sites are not solely designed for online videos and that there are other social media platforms such as Youtube and Metacafe that are designed and created solely for online video production and sharing. This argument is true in every regard and in the case of South Africa where the production of user generated content is very low, online video sites such as Zoopy and Myvideo are trying to establish a dominant platform for South African user generated content.

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Partnerships between mainstream media organisations in South Africa and platforms such as Zoopy and myvideo should be created so as to effectively boost the use of online videos on news sites in the country. With adequate funding Zoopy and myvideo could effectively become a platform for news sites to outsource videos for their sites. This endeavour would effectively cut down on staffing costs and still increase the amount of content and traffic coming onto South African news sites.

But for this to happen sites like Zoopy and myvideo have to excessively market themselves as sustainable online video hosting and sharing sites. People have to feel comfortable enough to upload their videos on these local sites. At the moment the major users of these hosting sites are the media organisations and a few free lance media workers who want to make their video material available online.

User generated content can help too

So maybe if the amount of user generated content is increased, the news sites would focus more on producing structured news videos on a regular basis and thus leave the majority of the community and social video production to online users via user generated content. This also creates room for interaction with the audience as they feel part of the information production cycle. A good example of a news site that is using this model effectively is the American Daily Metro newspaper, Star Tribune.

The news site has a section where users submit their videos and these videos act as the entertainment or social videos whilst the multimedia journalists work on producing informative news videos.

New Media revolution

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The 20th of April witnessed a worldwide 40th anniversary celebration of what is up to date considered one of mankind’s greatest escapades, the moon walk. This “small step for man, and giant leap for mankind,” has proved to be a great step indeed. 40 years down the line effects of the moon landing and exploration into orbit has begun to elucidate immense results. The establishment of space satellites has greatly boosted and enhanced the communication systems of mankind since the first satellite was launched into space in 1957.

The over 500 satellites in earth’s orbit today have facilitated the establishment of the internet and in turn Twitter and Facebook. Social media sites such as these have taken advantage of the technological advancements in the global communication sector. A move from mere peer to peer communication to one of mass communication has been realised by most of these social networking and media sites.

On the 11th of July US president Barack Obama made use of the social media and networking sites Facebook and Twitter to broadcast his message of good governance and economic progress in Ghana. The speech was streamed live on the Whitehouse website, Facebook and Twitter accounts. South African based mobile social network and instant messenger service Mxit also got into the action as users sent messages and comments to President Obama.

In an effort to better understand the mindset of the African youth, President Obama asked young people across the African continent to engage with him on MXit. Users of the service were asked to send a message to Obama and he would respond to the messages within 24hours.

Growth and Importance of New Media

This endeavour by the US president has illustrated the growth and importance of new media in modern day society. Issues of instant communication between distant parties have become the sort out objective of modern day communication. Although main stream media through television and radio can achieve this form of communication, social media and networking sites go a step further by providing a two way communication platform.

Having received the live Obama stream on Facebook and Twitter, viewers could post comments and engage in debates with other people distant to them. Even if the questions are not personally answered by the president himself direct communication between the president’s office and the ordinary citizen has been achieved, something that was perceived as being near to impossible 10 years ago.

Revolution around the corner

So, as the world celebrates the 40th anniversary of what could have been seen as impossible 100 years ago people should not ignore the communication advancements that are being made in the new media sector. The evolution of social media sites into major mass communication channels can potentially be the doorway to effective communication and information distribution within the next 10 years.

After all, contrary to popular belief, Africa, one of the most under developed continents in the world is not completely absent from the Internet. In fact, the continent at large is undergoing a connectivity revolution. Although many people might not have access to computers, many are accessing the internet via their mobile phones.  The average is 30.4% and there are 280 million subscribers in total, making Africa the fastest growing mobile market in the world. So as long as internet accessibility is becoming global, the growth and dominance of new media technologies is inevitable.

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Corporations go Social Media route

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Not long ago having a dotcom was the absolute key to building brand awareness. Big corporations aimed to have one and once they got it, it was the URL they pointed everyone to in all of their marketing and brand promotions. But with the evolution of Web 2.0 and the rise of the social web, corporations have realised the numerous advertising and marketing opportunities that are presented by social media platforms. Access to clients and potential customers has been made easier by social media platforms such as Loopd, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. These interactive social media sites enable interaction between the different corporation marketers and potential and existing customers.

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Instead of directing traffic to the official company website it has become common for most businesses to promote their social media pages. Business cards containing Twitter usernames as opposed to domain names have become the norm for big companies such as HP and Intel. Because of the great client and customer response presented by the social media, companies are opting to create ad campaigns that actually direct people to interact with their social media accounts rather than visit their branded website. Vitamin Water is one of the big companies which is using this form of product promotion. Vitamin Water is using this advertising mode through a multi-channel campaign featuring NBA superstars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Although the ad campaign is mainly designed for ESPN, a sport channel, the ad requires viewers to visit facebook.com/vitaminwater which is their social media page.

Why the move to social media?

With more than 500 million active members, social media platforms are clearly the biggest platform for companies like Vitamin Water to use for their product outreach. Social media users are becoming marketers as friends make each other aware of certain brands via the networking platforms. The ability to engage in debate with fellow users enables corporations to pinch ideas from their customers on how to make their product better. Wall posts on company’s Facebook profiles enables marketers to know what their customers think about their product without them having to spend a lot of money on the process. Because joining the social media platforms is free, companies are realising the cost benefits of marketing their product for free. Vitamin Water uses different social media to promote their product. They direct people to their Facebook profile and whilst on their profile they also link customers to their YouTube page where they show their video ad campaigns. So instead of spending millions of dollars on advertising on ESPN, the company airs minimal ads on Tv.

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Growth of social media

Although the business models for making amicable profit from social media sites is still debatable, some major investors recognise the potential in the growth of these sites in the media and advertising industry. Recently Facebook received a $200 million investment from a Russian Internet investment firm that values the social networking site at $10 billion. The firms also plans to buy at least $100 million of Facebook common stock from existing stockholders to provide liquidity for current and former employees with vested shares of Facebook.

The sudden interest in marketing products on social media sites has been a revelation to marketers who deem the advertising world as saturated. However, not all companies use the social media for advertising; some firms use the sites to create product interest. For example Johnson & Johnson uses a blog to show another side of the company, with frequent video posts and interviews. Nike started a social community on Loopd to connect athletes interested in surfing, BMX bike racing and similar activities with the brand.

What started as a means of communicating and producing armature media has evolved into a platform for exploitation by different corporations and organisations. The concept of social media and networking is slowing changing because of the grave interest in the platform’s ability to communicate to masses faster and to transgress cultural and political boundaries.

Stalker on the network

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Anyone who uses the Internet can be subjected to Cyberstalking. The use of information technology, particularly the Internet, to harass another person has become common especially with the growth of social media and networking sites. People protect themselves on the street and they are always aware of strangers, but they hardly think about how easy it is for people to come into their homes through the Internet. Although, some people may think it is fun to post photos and information and status updates on sites such Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace they often forget about the hundreds or thousands of people who see or could potentially see that information.

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Imagine it’s late on a Saturday night and you cannot fall asleep so you decide to sit down at your computer and check your Facebook messages. “Papa,” your new friend, wants to know if you can chat. You log onto the AIM facility on Facebook, and talk about everything from politics to which foods you like. You think you’ve made a new friend but you know nothing about “Papa,” but he knows a lot about you.

Cyberstalkers may use networking websites to contact their victims, or simply identify targets and plan the best way to stalk them. Cyberstalking can cross-over to physical stalking and in extreme cases be a prelude to more serious behaviour, including physical violence.

The stalking may begin online and then move into the physical realms where the cyberstalker will use the person’s information to follow them around. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter encourage their users to keep updated information about their daily activities on the sites. In the mist of all this information sharing, social media and networking users tend to forget that one of their contacts or friend’s friend can stalk them. With the ability of creating a false identity and personality presented by the internet, one can never know who they are really communicating with on these networking sites. There are over a million social networking accounts on the web and it is really difficult to determine who is really genuinely socialising with you without any hidden agendas unless if you physically know the person.

There are various forms of cyberstalking and these involve the spreading of false accusations in order to damage reputations over the internet, encouraging harassment of other social networking users and false victimization. A good example of a non common mode of cyberstalking was when “Boxxy” a teenage girl with a webcam, a YouTube account and a tendency to spout hyperactive nonsense at an astonishing rate was victimised and harassed by other online users.

Boxxy created a YouTube video which managed to make its way to another social networking site where members of that site began anti Boxxy factions because of the content of the video. She began to get threatened and harassed over the web and she was ordered not to produce anymore online videos.

WiredSafety.org, a website dedicated to online safety, lists some characteristics that predators look for when searching for their next online victim and these include emotional instability and weakness. People who are new or unfamiliar with the internet or a specific social site are more likely to be victims of cyberstalking. According to the website about 83 percent of cyberstalking victims are women. So the question is, how then can one protect themselves from being cyberstalked?


Tips against cyberstalking

* Don’t exchange emails and photographs of yourself with people you’ve never met

* Don’t assume that the person you meet online is who they say they are, digital identities are malleable

* Never open unknown attachments from strangers, and use up-to-date anti-virus software

* And if you want to meet someone you know from online, take a friend along.

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