Social Networking: the Promise, the Reality, and the Dark Side

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In 1995 the first social networking site, theglobe. com, was established (Nickson, Christopher). The way humans connect and interact with each other- and the rate at which they could do it- was never the same. Today, people can contact their aunt 20,000 miles away with the simple click of a button. However, social networking did not start with Facebook and MySpace. Social networking sites were born from the BBS, which stands for the Bulletin Board System (Nickson, Christopher).

These online meeting places were independently-produced and allowed users to communicate with a central system where they could download files or games and post messages to other users.

The BBS’s could only be accessed from a telephone modem so most users only connected with local people to avoid long distance charges. These local connections turned into an online gathering place for cities and counties. Although painstakingly slow, the Bulletin Board System of connecting with other people gained popularity very quickly.

Humans have a natural need for community and socialization.

This was why Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist, created Dunbar’s Number. Dunbar’s number is a theoretical limit of the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships with. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is. Dunbar’s number, which on average is 150, states the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, it does not include the number of people known personally but do not talk to any longer (Sen, Apurba and Weiss, Taly).

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However, the stability of these connections have changed over the time that social networking has been around. An individual might have 250 friends online, but studies have shown the group of people that the individual is “just barely in-touch” with is the highest compared to the individual’s “one-way relationships” and “closest friends”, which on average is only three people. When the first social networking site was opened people were ecstatic. It was now possible to communicate with ease with friends and family who lived far away or were otherwise hard to reach.

These new websites proposed an opportunity to make new friends as well as share your story with others. Not only do social networking sites offer connections with other people, they have grown into sites that cater to people with certain needs and who have certain disabilities. These sites help to let these people lead a normal life by providing a safe place for people with the same condition to talk to each other and support one another (“Social Networking”). Studies have shown that “people who access these special sites and interact with other users lead a happier and more healthy life” (“Social Networking”).

In America, 60 million people have received life-changing help from family, friends, and even strangers while on social networking sites (“Social Networking”). This number shows that not only is the internet used to talk to friends, sites like Facebook and MySpace are used to create and contact support systems that many people would not have otherwise. Social sites like DeviantArt make it possible for amateur as well as professional creativity to flow in a new medium and makes these works available to a broader audience (“Social Networking“).

Social networking sites like these let people have special opportunities to change their lives by helping them find a new hobby or job that they love to do. This promise of community seemed very appealing when social sites were first opened to the public and has captivated millions of our population. However, as more and more people log on, the reality seems to be more obvious and the dark side of this operation rears its ugly head. Social networking sites have become the root of our society today.

About 94% of Americans between the ages of 18 to 34 use social networks, 67% of Americans 45 to 54 use social networks, and 55% of Americans of the age 55 and up use social networking sites (Marriner, Leigh). These numbers might seem surprising, but humans have a natural instinct and need for community which explains why the social networking epidemic has infected almost every single human being in our world today. Social networking sites often distract students from what they need to get finished.

About 60% of teachers in a study in England said their students’ homework was sloppily written and of bad quality because of the rushed speed that students complete their assignments due to lack of time because of wasted time online. Even though teens spend an average time of nine hours a week on social networking sites (“Social Networking”), 59% of students use part of their time on these sites discussing educational issues such as college and career planning, and 50% of students use time to discuss school assignments (“Social Networking”).

However, children and teens are not the only ones abusing their potential online. Adults between the ages of 18 and 49 could seriously hinder their potential to be successful if they make a mistake on any social networking site, such as; saying something about their boss online or spending time online at work. It has been shown that two-thirds of the American work force accesses a social networking site while at work (“Social Networking Statistics“). Many people think that they can say anything they want online because there is no way anyone will know that they were the ones who said it.

In reality, “online anonymity is declining“, and it is becoming easier and easier to track posts back to the poster (Marriner, Leigh). Because of the ease at which you can post stories, false or not, social networking sites today are “undermining the authority of news sources” (Marriner, Leigh). The reality of social networking was soon realized but rarely recognized as important. Questions soon arose, such as: “How can I be sure that my information is simple being looked at and not stared upon by unwanted eyes? ” or “How am I to know if this person that I have been talking to really is who they say they are? ”.

The answer is simple: one is never to know for sure of anything on the internet today. It has become too easy for someone to create a fake persona. For this reason, social networking has grown a side that everyone knows about but does not regard- the dark side. Sure, one can contact lost friend and far-away relatives, but social networking sites gave come to exploit one’s vulnerability. Internet bullying, especially among teenagers, has become very serious and social networking has made it possible for these bullies to torment and humiliate teenagers today. Cyber-stalking has also become very prominent in online communities today, as well.

Cyber-stalkers can easily access information about one’s favorite food, where they frequently go, and even what they think about. Sites like these have made it all too easy for children, teenagers, and even adults to be thrown into threatening situations. Internet bullying is a harassment has become prevalent together with the rise of cyber technology. Internet bullies may use crude, offensive and vulgar language in an attempt to affect the personal status and condition of their victims which can range from the mere mention of mean words to something more dangerous such as death threats. 8% of kids admit to being the target of mean or hurtful things while online. More than four out of ten say it has happened more than once (Educationnews. org). Another form of digital harassment is identity theft and spamming, which can leave you with a crashed computer. Identity theft has been made all too easy by the creation of the social network because anyone can log on and see our cell phone number, where you live, and your name, which are pieces of information that can be used against you for the benefit of someone else. Spamming has also become all too easy.

With the creation of emailing and social networking, it has been made possible that by one click of a mouse of an advertisement or an email can infect your computer with malicious software, otherwise known as malware, and ultimately leave you with the responsibility of buying a new computer (Strickland, Jonathan). Many people know the internet is ridden with registered sex offenders, but many do not regard this when they log on to a social networking site. In February of 2009, there were 90,000 registered sex offenders actively using MySpace (“Social Networking”).

One might think that once these sex offenders are found and banned from the site they will never return. However, many sex offenders return and simply create a new account with a new identity and persona and resume their previous dangerous activities with ease (Strickland, Jonathan). Social presence has “become just as real as physical presence“, if not more so (Marriner, Leigh). Unfortunately, this newfound “addiction” to online socializing has left some people with a condition known as social isolation hich refers to a lack of contact with one’s species. The distance at which social networks have come to put certain people create strain in marriages, relationships, and families because of the time spent online (“Social Networking”). Even though social networks like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter have their dark sides, they never seem to be blamed or used any less by the general public. This shows humans’ need for community and socialization. Nevertheless, social networking started with a promise to connect the world and it certainly has done so.

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Social Networking: the Promise, the Reality, and the Dark Side. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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