What is Social Networking?
Social networking (or social media) is the Internet trend of using websites to build and maintain relationships. A social networking website generally requires each user to create a personal account (often referred to as a personal profile). Once a profile is created, the user can interact with other users on the site. Many social networks require you to add others as part of your network before you can interact with them, but some sites allow you to interact with any other member of the site.
Different types of social networking include personal networking (like Facebook and MySpace), professional networking (like LinkedIn), blogging, online discussion boards, video sharing (like YouTube), photo sharing (like Flickr and Photobucket), commercial social networking (like Blippy), bookmarking, hobby and special interest networking (like Ravelry), and cyberdating sites (like eHarmony or Match.com).
What are the benefits?
Social networking has a number of benefits for families, individuals, and communities. The following are a few examples of these benefits:
- Social networking sites such as Facebook have enabled millions of people to keep in closer contact with many family and friends with whom they might otherwise not have maintained as close of friendships.
- These services have enabled small business owners to interact with their customers more effectively and to increase their customer base more easily through word-of-mouth online.
- Services such as Twitter have helped celebrities raise funds for causes, have helped spread important news stories quickly, and have enabled bloggers to more effectively communicate with their audiences.
- Video sharing sites such as YouTube have made it possible for amateur performers to share their talents with thousands or even millions of people worldwide.
What are the risks?
- Social networks require some sacrifice of privacy to function. Sometimes kids and teens have poor judgment as to what is appropriate to post online and what should be kept private.
- Online predators sometimes use social networks to find victims. MySpace in particular is known for its edgy dynamic, and many have criticized it as "a very unsafe environment for [kids and teens] to be in." 1 Adults should be aware of this risk as well.
- Social networks are the Web's most convenient forums for cyberbullying. Joining a social network puts your child at risk for being bullied online—and opens the temptation for your child to bully others.
- Social networking is a lot of fun. It's so fun, in fact, that many kids and teens (and even adults!) find themselves addicted to social media sites. Spending too much time on any social network can cause one to become disconnected from real life and relationships.
- A common source of addiction rooted in social networking sites is addiction to Social Network Games.
- Social networking could also increase risks of identity theft, scams, viruses, malware, and cyberstalking.
How do I use it safely?
- For parents: Know what social networks your child has joined. You need to evaluate each one individually to make sure that (1) the site isn't inherently inappropriate or dangerous, and (2) that even on a fairly innocuous site, your child isn't posting overly personal information that could make him or her a target for predators.
- Though cyberbullying can (and does) happen independent of social networks, sites like MySpace and Facebook present all sorts of ways for kids and teens to be cruel to one another. Talk with your kids about the seriousness of cyberbullying. If you or your child are harassed by an online user, be sure to report the user for abusive behavior. Technical steps for reporting abusive users are available on individual sites' wiki pages, such as Youtube and Myspace.
- Set definite rules about how long your kids can spend on social networking sites. You may even want to enlist the help of parental controls or monitoring software that will automatically block access to social sites once a certain time limit has been reached.
- Learn how you can install monitoring software on your computer. There are lots of easy options that won't cost you a cent. Our article on Content filters will direct you to information and helpful steps for finding the right solution for you or your family. Remember, this is only a technical solution. Many kids can easily work around a filter; one of the best ways to know what your child is doing online is to encourage open communication.
Where Can I Learn More?
Social networking in society
- Many people use social networks to aid in product decisions, you can read this article to see how consumers use social networks.
- This is a story about how two missing children were found as a result of Facebook.
- Here's another video that explains the basic structure of most social networks, highlighting why social networks can be helpful.
Using caution with social networks
- This Dateline report about social networks shows some of the worst case scenarios that can occur when teens with poor judgment roam social networks unchecked. Though the story focuses on MySpace, the cautions given apply to any network where kids and teens congregate. (Content Warning: This news video gives brief flashes of explicit text and images that teens have posted to MySpace.)