Why Social Network Users Won't Be Easily Scared Off by Security Concerns

After several security breaches on the Twitter network this month — including one involving the use of a so-called "botnet" to harvest online banking passwords on the computers of more than 200 Twitter users in South America — it would not be hard to imagine that many people would shy away from the fast-growing social network.

But a significant retreat from Twitter is not a likely outcome, say Wharton faculty. "The appeal of Twitter is not [about] security but rather an avenue to exchange information and contact friends," said Wharton marketing professor Eric T. Bradlow, who co-directs the Wharton Interactive Media Initiative. "I don’t see this as having a major impact on Twitter, except to the degree that it degrades or influences their brand."

Besides, most social network users — including those on popular sites such as Facebook and MySpace –  "are oblivious to security issues," according to Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Andrea M. Matwyshyn. Her view that users of social networks too often "live out loud," posting details about themselves that make them vulnerable to identity theft, was the subject of a recent Knowledge at Wharton article titled, "Leaving 'Friendprints': How Online Social Networks Are Redefining Privacy and Personal Security."

Many Twitter users also place a high value on having many "followers," people whom they may or may not know but who choose to receive their Twitter postings. "On Twitter there is a status dynamic that comes from having many followers," Matwyshyn points out. A person with many followers can be viewed as someone whose brief Twitter updates are particularly interesting. But many of those followers may be more interested in identity theft, she says. She recommends that Twitter users regularly cull followers they do not know.

More from Knowledge at Wharton:

Advertising Yourself: Building a Personal Brand through Social Networks

All That Twitters Isn't Gold: A Popular Web Application in Search of a Business Plan