Social media has changed the way people interact. In many ways, social media has led to positive changes in the way people communicate and share information; however, it has a dark side, as well. Social networking can sometimes result in negative outcomes, some with long-term consequences.
People As Products
According to e-Marketer, global social networking revenues will exceed $10 billion 2013. Most social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and many others offer their services to members for free, yet still net significant income. In fact, according to Mashable Business, Facebook earned $1.6 billion in revenues in the first half of 2011, and was on pace to achieve more than $3 billion in revenues by year end.
If the services are free, then, how do social networking websites earn such staggering sums of money? The answer is that you, the social network user, is the product these online giants sell to generate revenue. According to BBC News, social networking sites are uniquely positioned to make money by matching people to products. Since you generate content on a social networking site that indicates your interests, social and work background, and a great deal of other information about your personal preferences, the social networking sites can target advertisements specifically to you, a service for which advertisers are willing to pay significant amounts of money.
While many users feel their personal data is safe on social networking sites because they have set high levels of security settings, research suggests this is not the case. According to a 2010 Northeastern University and Max Planck Institute for Software Systems study, researchers created an algorithm to discover an individual's personal attributes by examining the one thing that most people leave public even when all other privacy settings are place: their friend list. Using the algorithm, researchers were able to infer many personal traits merely from friend lists, including educational level, university attended, hometown and other private data.
Many social networking sites regularly make changes that require you to update your settings in order to maintain your privacy, and frequently it is difficult to discover how enable settings for your appropriate level of privacy. Because of this, many users do not realize how much private information they are allowing to become public by not re-evaluating settings every time the network makes a change.
Tagging can also serve as an invasion of privacy. When social networking sites have a "tagging" option, unless you disable it, friends or acquaintances may be able to tag you in posts or photographs that reveal sensitive data.
Negative Health Consequences
A 2010 Case Western Reserve School of Medicine study showed hyper-networking (more than three hours on social networks per day) and hyper texting (more than 120 text messages per day) correlated with unhealthy behaviors in teens, including drinking, smoking and sexual activity. Hyper-networking was also associated with depression, substance abuse, poor sleep patterns, suicide and poor academic performance.
While on the surface it appears social networking brings people together across the Internet, in a larger sense it may create social isolation, according to a BBC News report. As people spend increasing amounts of time on social networks, they experience less face-to-face interaction. Scientists have evaluated social isolation in many studies, and have determined that it can lead to a host of mental, psychological, emotional and physical problems including depression, anxiety, somatic complaints and many others. In fact, a University of Illinois at Chicago School of Medicine animal study showed social isolation impaired brain hormones, which is the likely reason socially isolated people experience tremendous levels of stress, aggression, anxiety and other mental issues.
While the above studies show actual correlations between social networking and negative consequences, others argue that many other negative consequences may exist that have not yet been studied. Some of the harmful effects people suggest social networking has that have not yet yielded conclusive study results include:
- Encouraging poor grammar, usage, and spelling
- Allowing the spread of misinformation that may be perceived as fact even in light of evidence to the contrary
- Exposing children to online predators
- Creating a culture in which a single mistake such as a racy picture or poorly thought-out comment can cause irreparable harm to your reputation
- Decreasing productivity as workers habitually check social networking sites while they should be working
- Providing information that increases the risk of identity theft
- Creating a platform for cyber bullying
Decreasing the Impact
It is inherent on the individual to use social networking constructively, and parents must be especially careful to monitor their children's use of social networking to minimize the potential for negative outcomes. Some tips:
- Always use maximum privacy settings
- Be cautious about what you share on social networking sites
- Minimize the time you and your children spend social networking
- Monitor your children's social networking use and friend lists
- Make household rules about social networking and enforce them
- Educate your children about the potential hazards of social networking
- Do not allow strangers into your social networks
- Build online networks of people you also interact with face-to-face, and encourage your children to do the same
Here to Stay
While social networking has clearly demonstrable negative impacts, it is most likely here to stay. Deciding whether you or your children will use social networking is an individual choice. By using it responsibly and encouraging your children to do the same, you can harness the benefits of social networking while avoiding the drawbacks.