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Social media savvy: The new digital divide?

Those without strong online social networks will be left out of the digital conversation, educator and consultant Angela Maiers argues

Readers' advice to students: Think about the digital footprint you want to leave.

The inclusion of social media data in the algorithms that search engines now use to help people find relevant information online could create a “new digital divide,” educator and consultant Angela Maiers believes—“those with a powerful network and those without.”

She also proposed a “new rule” that sums up the importance of managing one’s online profile carefully: “You are what you share.”

In a wide-ranging Twitter chat with eSchool News readers Oct. 19, Maiers discussed the implications of the decision by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and other internet gatekeepers to build social media data into their web-search formulas.

The discussion touched on what this new trend toward “social search” means for society, why it’s important for educators to teach social media skills to their students, and how to make parents more comfortable with their children using social media in the classroom and at home, among other topics. Maiers was joined on the chat by Daniel Newman, an entrepreneur and business professor, as well as dozens of eSchool News readers.

When web surfers use Google, Yahoo!, or Bing to look for information about a topic, the search results they now see at the top of the page might differ from those of their neighbor. That’s because all the major search engines have revised their formulas to include social media data—such as how frequently we’ve visited a particular website before, or how many of our online friends and acquaintances have endorsed it—as key indicators of a website’s importance.

“Until now, [a website’s] data rank was untouched by social elements,” Maiers wrote. “Today, there is no separation—social engagement impacts [the] rank [and] value of data.”

This subtle but powerful shift, which Maiers defines as “social search,” has come about as the web has evolved “to meet our need for personal, relevant, and customized info,” she explained. “We want our search engines to be find engines. In order for that to happen, the web needs to know us.”

Major search engines “recognize that data from those we engage with socially will be more likely to be seen as ‘trusted,’” she added.

But this shift also has enormous implications for students and society.

For one thing, it gives more weight or credibility to information that is widely shared through online social media. So, those with larger social networks now have an advantage when it comes to exerting an influence on the web.

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Comments:

  1. sram_socrates

    November 1, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    I think that are some great comments and issues arised. There is a great shift in respect to understanding, being a part of and using social media. Individuals do need to relaize that there is a great deal of emphasis put on to what a person says and how they represent themselves. With today’s digital age this means that being a conscious and digitally appropriate citizen is vital.
    For example the quickest way an employer gathers information about a possible candidate is to run a quick internet search and more often than not information already available. Keeping this in mind is it not better to be in control of the information relating to you rather than someone else controling it.
    The world we are moving towards is about “Educating not Legislating”

  2. svandyk

    November 2, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I think this quote sums it up nicely – “It starts with learning to be a good human being,” Newman added. “Take that online and you will succeed.”

    No need for two rules or two personalities, just be a good person and your worries will be small.

  3. wallace

    November 15, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    The digital divide is a debunked theory that was coined to describe the learning differences in generations regarding the knowledge and use of technology. I agree whole-heartedly that technology has infiltrated human communication. It is the “new” way in which information is shared. This does not mean that face-to-face conversations have lost their style. We have merely adopted contemporary ways to do the same thing through more convenient methods. Does this imply that anyone has lost the ability to connect with others? Not necessarily. I think that the advancement in technology has simply created a challenge for all ages to unite.