The rapid advance of technology has been amazing in so many ways; communication with people around the globe has never been as easy as it is today. Both computers and mobile phones allow people all over the world to be just a click away from real communication. Lately, social networking has become a huge trend in today’s society, since it is the fastest and effortless way to meet new people who may share similar ideas and it allows us to stay in touch with old friends and relatives that live far away. Moreover, there are still concerns about the way people communicate online and the existence of privacy and identity issues when using social network sites. I believe that while there still some issues when disclosing information in online sites, there are more benefits that one can obtained when socializing in the online world if people are well informed about the risks and the security that social networking sites offer when sharing personal information.
A few years ago I moved to a small city; many of my relatives and friends were left behind, and it became difficult for me to go and visit them or even talk to them. The only mean of communication until now has been through social networking, making it the easiest and most inexpensive way of staying in touch with the people that are far away from me. In today’s world, the Internet pervades every aspect of life, from smartphones to streaming video. Every single human need for information or entertainment can be accessed with the push of a button, which creates a culture of immediacy that some people believe threatens societal development. However, it can be said that the Internet provides a bastion of information and communication that is unprecedented at any other point in history. The immediate thoughts, the hopes and dreams, and the political beliefs of millions of people are instantly at one's fingertips. Social networking has been most beneficial for myself and for many others that may share a similar situation, and research keeps demonstrating the rapid growth and importance of this new form of communication (Din et al., 2012).
As an online user for various social network sites, I can find that communicating online is easier than anything else. We live in a fast paced society; it is sometimes difficult to stop and think about the people one needs to keep up with. When we are busy with other things during the day, we tend to find it hard to keep a conversation with somebody face to face or on the phone; by sharing a short message or blog on a web site, it is easier for people to understand that you are there, but at the same you are multi-tasking on other things. In addition, a social networking website (e.g Facebook, Twitter) gives the ability to share blogs, videos, and pictures that can bring people with common interests together; it also offers exposure to new ideas from around the world, and lower inhibitions to overcome social anxiety. For people that have a difficult time communicating in person, they would find it more comfortable interacting via the Internet, which I could relate to this last statement since other than work related interaction, I find it difficult socializing with others on a more personal level.
As previously mentioned, the main importance of social networking is the fact that allows people to create new relationships and reconnect with friends and family (Din et al., 2012). Just as any other form of contact, a greater level of communication, even online, strengthens and forms new and old relationships alike. The iPhone generation has created a culture in which no one need ever leave their mobile phone or laptop. Everything can be done with the simplest action on a phone, from contacting nearly anyone you can in multiple ways (speaking, texting, IMing, even through webcam) to checking your bank account or looking up information. With this in mind, people are able to be more informed than ever before. Personalized blogs and social networks, as well as sites like Facebook, allow people to manufacture their own content and exercise their own creative muscles, becoming their own authors of culture (Lin & Lu, 2011).
Some people may argue that there is no safer way than communicating face to face, since it’s easier to see people’s body language and perceive their sincerity when talking to one another. While this statement is true, the reality is that the majority of people don’t really have the time or the availability to see all of their acquaintances. In addition, there are other issues that people find with social networking other than meeting people directly; there are privacy and security issues that websites can be vulnerable to, where people’s identity and personal information can be compromised by malicious users that mask their online identity (Holmquist, 2009). In these cases, people that are constantly using network sites for personal or business purposes need to be thoroughly informed about what social websites offer, and the precautions to take in regards to public disclosure. It should be noted that research and continuous effort has been performed in order to create a better system of security and protection for social network sites in order to identify malicious acts that could affect online users (Weir, Toolan & Smeed, 2011).
Social networking is growing rapidly where communication is becoming less limited; research on this new trend of communication has been increasing. The purpose of this paper is to determine how much social networking as a phenomenon has been increasing over the last ten years, the interaction between their members, and the security that the websites provide. Other benefits that have been found and proposed include how large business organizations can take advantage of the use of social networking, as well as the disadvantages that social specialists may report in regards to the effect of limited face to face interaction (Weir, Toolan & Smeed, 2011). There is also the subject of the way it affects teenagers who are more prone to use websites for social interaction and the lack of outdoor activities (Holmquist, 2009).
As a consequence of this media-savvy culture, people read fewer books on the whole. While many people portray this as a bad thing, citing a potential lack of experience with the written word which can stunt language development and communication, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, children actually write more now with the constant typing of the Internet culture – “Teenagers today read and write for fun; it's part of their social lives” (Goldwasser, 2010). Thanks to instant messaging, blogging, and social media, the written word is a much larger part of their social lives, and as such they have a greater exposure to it. Though some can claim this might dilute language due to new words being formed, and typos being potentially more prevalent, the sheer amount of correctly proofread content on the Internet means that people are given access to a greater amount of immediate professional content than ever before. The immediacy of social media means that people have much easier access to news, and are able to report it themselves in an articulate way. Someone can read a news story from CNN.com, get the full story from other news websites and blogs, as well as Twitter coverage from people who are at the site of the story, and even offer their own perspective for the world to read and absorb. “The Internet has turned teenagers into honest documentarians of their own lives -- reporters embedded in their homes, their schools, their own heads” (Goldwasser).
Some claim that the Internet culture makes people even more alienated from themselves, due to the fact that it is much more easy and convenient to respond to people via email and smartphones. Even in mixed company, people tend to take out their phones and check them in lieu of communicating face-to-face with others – “when technology brings us to the point where we're used to sharing thoughts and feelings instantaneously, it can lead to a new dependence” (Goldwasser, 2010). This is a recurring theme in business and personal interactions of late, as the immediacy of Internet media has become preferable to actual physical and verbal interactions. However, people still have the choice to have face-to-face conversations with people, and are able to be perpetually present in each other’s lives – no amount of technology will restrict that. In fact, email, text messaging and instant messaging act as a means to provide more opportunities to find more people, make more friends, and even find romance. Rather than replacing our normal means for social lives, it enables us to simply have more than we have now.
Another social good for social networking is its ability to make political change happen all around the world. The Internet has made it incredibly easy for nearly any issue under the sun to be thrust into the national spotlight. In a world where even a video of a cat playing a keyboard can be seen by people around the world, it makes it even more likely for entire countries to band up against their leaders. This has occurred very recently, in light of the incredible series of national protests and political upheavals that have taken place in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. These were widely orchestrated political uprisings that allowed for an entire population to rise up simultaneously against their oppressive regimes; nearly all of them ended up successful changes in administration.
Today’s electronic age has made it much easier to have international protests take place in multiple areas; Twitter, Facebook and other social media have facilitated groups with the ability to assemble and organize large protests across the country. In the case of a Jena, Louisiana murder wherein six black teenagers were charged with the attempted murder of a white student (whom they had just beaten), many gathered to protest what was, in their mind, an overly harsh charge fueled by racial tensions. This issue had become “viral”; in other words, social media and the Internet had caught onto it, making people around the country and the world aware of it and willing to protest. A small town issue suddenly was thrust into the national spotlight, drawing thousands of protestors to the issue and highlighting the effect mass media has in facilitating protest (Wilson, 2007).This is a very strong piece of evidence for the effectiveness of protest, particularly as it can be performed today. The ability to assemble a large group of people for simultaneous uproar grants protest a greater amount of power than ever before, provided the numbers are there to make a sufficient impact. Making your protest viral is a vital component of its success; the more people hear about it, the more people will join.
Despite the fact that social networking draws people into worlds of connectivity between people, privacy is actually a legitimate and frightening issue. When sites like Facebook place a value on the sheer number of friends you have, it can be easy to let anyone in to see your timeline or messages. Often, the drive to express one's daily life through Facebook status updates or tweets can be so great that it can expose information about yourself to anyone who dares to listen. Add to that the option of reporting and "checking in" to wherever you are, and Facebook can literally track you down to where you are at that moment. This is a dangerous prospect to consider, especially since companies and third-party organizations will often sell your private information and search histories to the highest bidder (Barnes). While the computer itself may allow you to work and communicate in physical privacy, the actual information you provide, whether inadvertent or not, is still very easy to access.
Despite the advantages the Internet provides us, it is necessary to address the privacy problem. There are three types of solutions that can be implemented to help keep people's information confidential and identities anonymous - social, technical and legal solutions (Barnes, 2006). In terms of social solutions, the responsibility lies with parents to help regulate children's access to Facebook and other social networking sites - they need to involve themselves more radically with their kids' Internet usage, and understand the technology better in order to make themselves available. Schools are also said to play a huge part in keeping this information private - having their own social networking policies for on-site computing helps somewhat, limiting students' access to non-productive sites like social networking services. However, there is more that can be done on the school level towards educating students and social networking users on media literacy through social networking and the maintenance of privacy (Barnes). Continuing the aforementioned privacy policies is a good idea, but privacy and media literacy courses designed to inform people how their information is used and accessed on Facebook could equip individuals with greater tools to keep themselves safe.
Despite the fact that social networking draws people into worlds of connectivity, privacy is actually a legitimate and frightening issue. When sites like Facebook place a value on the sheer number of friends you have, it can be easy to let anyone in to see your timeline or messages (Felt and Evans, 2008). Often, the drive to express your daily life through Facebook status updates or tweets can be so great that it can expose information about yourself to anyone who dares to listen. Add to that the option of reporting and "checking in" to wherever you are, and Facebook can literally track you down to where you are at that moment (Livingstone, 2008). This is a dangerous prospect to consider, especially since companies and third-party organizations will often sell your private information and search histories to the highest bidder (Barnes, 2006). While the computer itself may allow you to work and communicate in physical privacy, the actual information you provide, whether inadvertent or not, is still very easy to access (Felt and Evans, 2008).
Social networking sites are the entities that could be responsible for technical solutions to address privacy violations. Improving technology and website security, including the improvements and changes Facebook continually makes to its privacy settings, places more control over who sees what in the hands of the user. Some websites are also including failsafes and verification methods to make sure that children under the ages of 13 and 14 are not allowed on social networking. Methods of reporting inappropriate content are also included within these social networks, in order to allow for individual policing of content and profiles (Barnes).
Finally, legal solutions to the privacy problem include initiatives like the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) (Barnes). This act mandates Internet filters to be placed in school-located computer libraries, which would limit access to social networking sites. However, despite the good intentions of this bill, further action is needed to protect privacy. Given the aforementioned benefits of social networking, complete censorship is not the answer; instead, students must be given the ability to police themselves. Becoming educated on what can happen to them on social networking, instead of allowing them to find out the hard way, permits them to exercise caution when participating in activities on social networks. This grants the user with a greater level of confidence, and the freedom to enjoy the media literacy, interconnectivity, and sociopolitical power that social networking has to offer.
There are numerable facts about social networking that support its benefits and pitfalls. However, the reality is that this new way of communication has been increasing rapidly in importance and prevalence, and has been a helpful tool to society in order to reconnect with old acquaintances and establish new relationships. Social networking is part of a new generation of technology, where people are making social network sites part their a daily life; it helps create innovative forms of communication for sharing information and interests that could bring people with common ideas together. In addition, social networking is not limited to a specific community; people can explore outside their social environment and learn about other cultures around the world where traveling is not required, and reaching others is only a click away. As such, people need to take advantage of current research and be informed about the benefits that technology brings, not only for personal use but also in the business world. This is a generation where people are now depending on the use of computers and online services in order to work and information faster and efficiently, and social networking is one of the biggest tools we have to make our society better.
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