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When you can, you don't

In May, Mark Zuckerberg turns 30.

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The average Facebook user is around 40.

In 1980, before the Facebook creator was even a twinkle in his father's eye, when the average Facebook user was playing happily in the school playground, an obscure academic at Aston University wrote a very prescient book called The Social Control Of Technology.

In it, David Collingridge explained what has come to be known as the "Collingridge dilemma". His insight was that we can successfully regulate technology when it's relatively unpopular and new. However, at that point, we don't know what the consequences of that technology are, so we don't know how to regulate it. By the time those consequences are apparent, our ability to regulate is much less, as the technology is now used by many with no controls, and regulation is difficult and unpopular. He wrote: "When change is easy, the need for it cannot be forseen; when the need for change is apparent, change has become expensive, difficult and time-consuming."

Of course, this applies to lots of social media, where the consequences of the lack of regulation have resulted in freedoms we all celebrate as well as behaviours such as cyber-bullying and trolling that we surely all deplore. Regulation of global media by local governments seems unlikely and unfeasible.

However, the consequences of social media aren't only unforeseen to good citizens. The news this month in The Sunday Times that "Facebook posturing" is helping Mexican police "nail drug barons" shows how quandaries about information-sharing work both ways. We don't want our own personal information to be accessed by the authorities but, if we allow this, it can perhaps mean more bad guys getting locked up.

The Sunday Times reported that younger members of Mexico's drug cartels, who have grown up with Facebook, have allegedly posted pictures of stacks of cash and silver- and gold-plated AK-47 assault rifles with the caption: "Partying and taking care of ourselves."

A US Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman is quoted as saying that the social media activity helps law enforcement "join the dots": "I would not be doing this if I were them, but then nothing surprises me."

What we choose to share publicly is a very personal decision for each of us. Surely, we will increasingly echo the thoughts of that DEA representative about our personal network as the urge to post, share and Tweet becomes more and more like second nature to us all.

And so the Collingridge dilemma will evolve from regulating too soon to regulation being redundant, as we either take greater care over what we share because the consequences are too painful or we accept that everyone shares everything and so we're all naked in the spotlight all the time.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom
@sueu

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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