Thirteen-year-old Megan Meier hanged herself after being cyber bullied on MySpace by Josh Evans—not a real boy, it turned out, but a creation of neighbors. According to Oprah.com, Social networking has become a part the daily lives of Americans both young and old. The digital age that America finds itself in has made online social networking a top resource for communication. It is the ultimate test of ego, a new social acceptance, a place of danger, a growing addiction and obsession and over the past six years; social networking sites have become a social and cultural phenomenon.
In the words of Noel Sheppard, It creates electronic relationships and makes it easy for a “friend” to misrepresent themselves under the “protective umbrella of anonymity”. It places distance between people who could communicate in person but instead choose to communicate online. Although social networking sites are increasing interactions among friends and family, it is decreasing the quality of human interactions in real life.
Social networking has facilitated communication, commerce, and information distribution. However, the downside to the social networking has become the topic of recent studies because of the rise of digital media and the ways the computer has penetrated human society. Popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, have caused many children to become obsessed and addicted, resulting in being incapable of having real conversations with people, to a larger effect, it is harming their health and work ethic in classrooms and the average teen now spends on average nine hours per week on social networking sites.
This accumulates to 18 days out of the 365 days of the year. Those 18 days spent sitting on a chair in front of an artificial communicating device, an average person could walk from Los Angeles to San Francisco and back.
Due to social networking sites, young teens are encountering alarming and harmful changes in their brains, and constant exposure to buzzing noises and bright lights, can cause shorter attention spans. Moreover, social networking sites are not only are harming the brains of children but it is resulting in low grades and low self-esteem. Furthermore, teachers are noticing that their student’s work is suffering because they constantly spend time on social networking sites rather than focusing on their homework. According to BBC News, 58% of teachers said that their children’s spelling was becoming worse and worse as they enter the “digital age.” Spokeswoman Janie Burt asserts that “Rather than relying on life experiences, educational travel and face to face interaction with others, children are becoming obsessed with social networking sites and this is shaping their attitudes instead.”
Online communicating is shaping our society into socialization, depression, and incapability to establish real life relationships. The distinction between genuine friends and acquaintances is becoming blurred. Users are spending time maintaining relationships with people with whom they do not really care. Cyperbullying has become more proliferated through social networking sites than emailing and text messaging. According to Procon.org, statistics show that 17.3% of middle school students have been victims of cyperbullying. Victims, often teens and young children experience lowered grades, self-esteem, and symptoms of depression. Social networking sites reveal personalities that are more “polished” and “bolder” thus creating a veiled stranger. Alex Gilbert, a teacher of creative writing, was puzzled that his friend- “a particularly masculine-type dude”- who is interested in metal bands and motorcycles, posts videos on Facebook of “uber cute” kittens (Sheppard 2).
Topics discussions like these that are on social networking sites are not subsistent for real life conversations. Social networking also allows passive-aggressive behavior. Virtually anything can be said behind a screen. Furthermore, social networking sites have evolved into a social acceptance, a basic necessity for the common American and you can even be seen as rude or unprofessional to ignore this new evolved media. Because real personal socializing has decreased, people are becoming socially isolated and even parents and couples are spending less time with their loved ones because they use internet social networking as a tool of communication. One 35-year-old woman even discovered her husband was divorcing her via Facebook. Conference organizer Emma Brady was distressed when she read that her marriage was over when her husband updated his status on the site to read: “Neil Brady has ended his marriage to Emma Brady. Facebook, the most widely used social networking site has over 90 million users in the United States and over 300 million worldwide.
Certainly, social networking sites are increasing interactions among friends and family, but it is decreasing the quality of real personal interactions. Social networking sites were not developed to help people connect and improve their lives, but rather, so companies can make money by advertising to them. A statistic from procon.org states that advertisers in the U.S. spent almost 1.4 billion dollars to place advertisements on social networking sites in 2008. Social networking sites also have an effect on politics. In the presidential election of 2008, candidates campaigned to voters with many different types of sites. On November 3, 2008, the day before the Election Day, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama had 2,379,102 Facebook fans while Republican candidate McCain had 620,359 according to procon.org. This illustrates the effect social networking can have on all aspects of social and even political life.
As online communication gradually destroys our society, the problem is not only the tools we use to communicate, but it is what we choose to expose online that can be harming. Based on an article written by Melissa Ridenour, a poorly responsible driver crashed his car and posted on his Facebook wall “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a drunkaholic” which later that very information he posted, was used to prosecute him in court. Sharing your personal information on social networking sites can create higher risks of robbery and invasion of security and privacy. In just recent cases, police, colleges, and schools are supervising MySpace and Facebook pages to obtain personality behaviors and conduct. Due to this, thousands of social network site users have lost their jobs or failed to launch new ones. What we choose to reveal online can be easily seen by predators. Such personal information is all that is needed for your identity to be stolen.
According to procon.org, in February 2009, MySpace identified 90,000 sex offenders with profiles on the site. A statistic from the Internet Safety Technical Force says that 43% of online sexual solicitors were under the age eighteen and 30% were between eighteen and twenty, while the other nine percent were over the age 21. Thirteen-year-old Megan Meier’s death was not caused by a real person, but by an artificial world of social networking that creates danger, isolation, and harm to every element in society. Although proponents of social networking argue that online interaction connects people with friends and family around the world, society has turned social networking sites into toxic time carnivores. When balanced on a scale, social networking is overweighed with negative effects. Like millions of users worldwide, Social networking has become part our daily lives but we cannot let it sink our society into the trap of the digital age.