One surprising but unquestionable benefit of new technologies is the widespread accountability of both businesses and individuals. Social media might just be one of the reasons, but this new trend does seem to be gaining great momentum because of it.
Businesses are using the social web to reach out to their customer and to enable more direct and transparent dialog. Their intention might be just to be perceived as more accessible but, because of the nature of the tools they use, they have effectively become so.
In turn, consumers are using their own tools to deliver their message to the previously unreachable companies. For the first time that this kind of communication happens in the open and becomes public: Facebook fan pages, twitter accounts, getsatisfaction, yelp, etc.
Beyond direct B2C communications, consumers have also proven that they can reach media attention. A dissatisfied consumer can now broadcast their own story and turn it into a big PR disaster. The song United Breaks Guitars that got over 7 million views in 6 months is one notorious example, as well as the more recent case of the TTC sleeping fare collector scandal.
New technologies are helping consumers make business and brands more accountable for their actions through public exposure. But it is not just companies are becoming more exposed, individuals also are.
The more social the web becomes the less anonymous we want to be. We want to reach our social circles (old and new) and the only way to establish this relationships is using our real selves. This decade we are using more elements that identify us uniquely: photo avatars, real names (vs nicknames) and fully detailed profiles.
The more accurately we can be recognized and identified, the more accountable we -as individuals- will be. This will in turn mean that individuals online will be lees likely to incur in unethical actions (or at least their online ethics will be more aligned with their offline values)
Dialog on the web will benefit largely. It will become more healthy and less noisy. After all, most will likely dismiss anonymous opinions that can’t be backed up by a real person.
There are also risks, of course; the other side of the coin in this game of Internet profiling is that we will lose a great deal of privacy. Anonymity will have its place as a tool for individuals to publicly denounce without fear of retaliation by those entities accused. In those cases, most likely (and most hopefully), public opinion will play a key role in holding those entities, as well as the accuser, accountable for their actions.