A comment I made back in April on a blog post entitled “ 4 Poor Excuses for Avoiding Social Media” that asked the question “Are there good reasons to avoid social media?”:

Not to be a hater, but how about: “Social Media is based upon an exploitative business model that seeks to monetize your relationships and personal/private information.”

I totally agree that Social Media can be quite effective at reaching out to people. But I also think the business model that enables social media services (like Facebook and Twitter, or other “free” services that are ad supported) undermines the social change work some nonprofits are attempting to bring about. While on one hand social media strengthens your organization’s ability to organize and mobilize for a cause, on the other hand its strengthening massive media, advertising, and data-mining companies who will use the money they earn from your participation to act and advocate against your social interests.

Social media might be a necessary evil, but I think its important to recognize that there is an “evil” involved.

And a response in followup to this being a topic that “rarely gets mentioned outside of geek circles”:

I think you’re right that this barely gets mentioned outside of geek (and media literacy) circles. That’s what makes it pernicious. It’s not obvious how these tools work and who they enrich.

I presented a grant proposal last night at an anti-racism foundation. One of the other presenting groups was a community group that was organizing to make sure that stimulus projects were going to local/people-of-color contractors. They would drive around their community looking for those big “America Works” signs and then ask the contractors where they were from and record the gender/race makeup of the workers.

Unfortunately, with a lot of media tools its not that easy to know who is behind them. Facebook’s Board of Directors, for example, is entirely white men. Their Executive Leadership team, of 13, is 2 women and 1 person of color.

I don’t think a boycott is the right thing to do. But I think there should be broader awareness and dialogue about how the new Internet economy can reinforce existing structural inequalities and injustice.

That last point is the important one: we spend so much time talking about the relationships social media creates between us and our constituents that we sometimes forget the relationships that are created between us and the social media providers themselves. Who is using whom?