Social media savvy: The new digital divide?

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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eSchool News Staff

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