According to Siegler (24), the invention of the Internet is probably one of the greatest inventions of man which can be considered ad important as the invention of fire. He notes that since its invention in early 1990s, the Internet has continued to evolve with numerous exciting applications being added almost daily to the already existing uses of the Internet. It is a vast net of entertaining applications that serve as work aid for hundreds of millions of users across the world. The invention of Internet has impacted the way people interact socially, economically, and politically around the globe. It has revolutionized the communication sector through making it simpler and quicker. People can now perform business transaction in the comfort of their homes with clients located thousands of miles away.
However, this revolution has had both positive and negative impacts on the society. Although the Internet is a tool for communication and social networking, the misuse of this important tool can be detrimental to the society. Cases of bulling and intimidation have been reported by Internet users all over the world. This paper is aimed at identifying the impacts of social networking in terms of cyber crime, social isolation, anonymous interactions, and online bulling.
History and the Overview of the Current Situation in Social Networking
Modern society exists in a digital world. Everything is spread out across a lot of media sources and these sources are shaped by almost everyone who interacts with the system. Interestingly, much of the media either exists or is related to the Internet and the online world. Siegler confirms in his statement that “the Internet is part of our everyday life” (19). This is because “we do the same in the Internet as in real life, probably in a […] more efficient, faster, and cheaper manner.” In this regard, the use of Internet for communication becomes more and more popular each day. Siegler (19) cites Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace among the several communication tools that enjoy popularity across the world.
Siegler (20) reports that this increase in popularity of social networking online has come with great impacts on the society. Great differences have been noted in what people do and how they do it compared to three decades ago, when social networking had not been discovered. Like any other kind of social change, the change in the perception and use of social networking has brought about both positive and negative impacts.
According to Nicholas & Fowler (10) millions of people access Internet today in one way or another. This is because of the easier accessibility of the Internet. The Internet is available in homes, offices, cybercafés, Internet kiosks, and almost in all places where there is a gathering of people for social or business purposes. Further, Nicholas & Fowler observe that the usage of Internet has been boosted not only by the invention of popular applications such as Facebook and Twitter. The increasing popularity of highly mobile devices like smart phones, notebooks, and laptop computers also contributed to the boost of Internet usage. Siegler (22) reported that the Internet has arguably not only grown in its popularity but it has also become a necessity in the lives of many people who use it.
Nicholas & Fowler (5) note that since its invention, the Internet has grown to offer powerful applications such as instant messaging, blogs, and VoIP, which includes peer-to-peer communication. The increasing popularity of these applications attracted entrepreneurs to put many of these services in their sites with an aim of connecting people. Consequently, it was discovered that the Internet could be used as a connecting tool among people whether for commercial purposes or simply for making friends and renewing old friendships. Thus the world of social networking was born. Evidently, almost all people who use the Internet are members of at least one social network. Nicholas & Fowler (7) confirm that this widespread use of social sites like Facebook and Twitter has, therefore, had a big impact on the way people socialize and live in a society.
According to Morley (9) there are hundreds of social networks operating in different countries all over the world with their popularity varying from one country to the other. These social networks are targeted at particular groups, while others are general in their use. Example of specific social network is the LinkedIn, which targets the executives and business employees. On the other hand, the popular general social networks include Twitter, Facebook, MySpace among many more. However, the spread of these social networks was not predicted to have the capability of growing to such tremendous level. For instance, during 2005-2006 MySpace, a social network that promotes independent music across the world was ranked higher than the giant Google in terms of the number of page views. Morley (15) notes that this network allowed its users to listen to latest music and find out about the new bands and events besides promoting creativity through unique profiles and sharing of videos. The study indicated that the social network had over 100 million music plays with an excess to 5.5 billion songs to listen to.
The study also indicated that current most popular social network in the world is Facebook. This network has over 300 million users with a half of them logging in daily. The site started as a tool to connect college students but it has since become the de facto social network in the English speaking world. Nowadays the number of adults signing up to Facebook is much bigger than the original target of college community. However, before the invention of modern popular social networks there were blogs which were used to connect people over the Internet. The uniqueness of blogs lies in their ability to help people use and air opinions on virtually anything to an audience that is spread across the world. These blogs deal with topics such as technology, food, personal opinion, politics, and fashion. The interesting fact about blogs and other social networks is that they take little time to create and use.
Whereas Facebook may be the fastest growing and most popular network in the world, other social networks are giving rivalry to this site. For instance, in China the QQ social network is number one due to its use of the Chinese language and is estimated to have over 300 million users. Morley (16) indicates that there are other social networks in various countries that are popular. In Russia there is a popular web site Vkontakte, while India and Brazil enjoy the Orkut. Hi5 and Cyworld have numerous followers in Central America and South Korea respectively.
Benefits of Social Networks
The positive impacts of social network on the overall communication of a person are numerous. People with similar interests and goals are able to easily connect without necessarily meeting one another. Students are able to virtually meet with other students and staff from other institutions through social networks. Morley (18) observes that this has eliminated the need to meet somebody in person. Instead, techno terms such as “poking” have replaced the traditional hand shaking. In fact the process of making new friends and reviving the old ones has been simplified. Evidently, meeting new people and staying connected is viewed as a big benefit of social networking.
Morley (18) notes that another benefit of social networking is the capability it offers to the user to do event listings and share information that helps in communicating the culture within an institution. This ensures that important events of an organization e.g. a club or a meeting are advertised and remain in the domain of public during the whole period until it takes place. Notably, social networking sites offer advertising forum for its subscribers through a process known as “hit count”. Moreover, social networks give students the opportunity to build a positive self-image. Through their profiles, they get a chance to create the image of themselves. In this regard, they put forward their best qualities that they want other people to see. Many people are thus able to create their reputation and public image either in education sector, business world, or political scenes.
Additionally, Lecky-Thompson (20) notes that social networking sites provide services like multiplayer online games and chat rooms among others. These services support the idea of communicating and interacting with others. Customization of user profiles e.g. change of background images and page layouts provides a good way of interaction through expressing and sharing interests. Lecky-Thompson (25) observes that many social networking sites market on the increasing convergence of technology and portability of today’s devices. This supports the idea of sharing and expressing similar interests. In this regard, significant part of people’s daily communication has become digitized. Music and messages are sent through social networks with a help of computers and phones. Lecky-Thompson (25) further notes that social networking sites also sell different services and, therefore, provide a converging business model to the users who may borrow from this model. In this manner, social networks offer a range of applications which allow users to easily connect with each other and share information on these sites.
Brown (11) argues that social networks also enhance freedom and mobility of the users through convergence technology. This is achieved through the ability of accessing information and communicating with other people at any time and place regardless of their location. A constant connection can be maintained through existing friends. The author also noted that social networking is bringing together those who would have otherwise not met.
Brown (12) suggests that social networks can help people feel socially active with a help of the formation of groups and communities which share common interests. They also help socially alienated people to form social ties and communicate effectively with others. Brown (12) notes this is especially beneficial for people who live in underpopulated regions where the chances of discovering individuals with similar interests are very small. Furthermore, an impression of a smaller world is created through social networking sites. In fact, there are several social networks e.g. Neighbo the purpose of which is to facilitate local interaction among people.
Boyd & Ellison (56) suggest that “with levels of social trust reported to be on the decline people respond by retreating indoors”. Evidently social networking provides an easier way to establish connections and form friendships among individuals of local community. Moreover, through the use of social networking it is possible to strengthen the already existing relationships on a community level. For instance, a trustee of a Unitarian Universalist meeting house claims that “the advantage to local communities of communicating online is that you can be made aware of more things… ” (Kavanaugh, 4). Boyd & Ellison (42) report that by increasing online communication, through social networks, people are likely to be more informed about and get involved in local events.
Similarly, social networks have promoted education and sharing of know-how information. Boyd & Ellison (45) argue that people are now able to share information through links, applications, and reviews. This can be done through sourcing information from other places and sharing it with others for education, updates of news, or support. They further indicate that many educational institutions are now encouraging learning model which emphases the use of Internet and social networking sites. This is because it allows for simpler communication guide for students to learn and share skills. Sandy (31) confirms this notion stating that it is expected from students to enjoy educational opportunities which make use of technology in various lesson topics, research, and interactive discussions because technology avails all these at their fingertips. This clearly indicates that online communication is in many ways beneficial in education and learning.
Brown (12) similarly reports that news information can also be accessed online as many news channels have now embarked on providing their information through the Internet. This information can be spread by the users of social networks through links and applications. In this way social network users are provided with live feeds and updated news which can be uploaded on their profile pages in social networks. This is further evidenced by regular connection and communication that is provided by social networking sites.
Negatives Impact of Social Networking
According to Sandy (37), social networking leads to over-sharing of information and loss of privacy of the users. This is arguably one of the worse effects of social networking that has impacted the society. The very essence of privacy seems to be eroding at an alarming rate given the amount of information and photos being shared through social networks. It is clear that ardent Internet users are glued to their computers for almost all their daily hours hence their privacy is threatened. Furthermore, most of social network sites require people to give personal information which include listing of full names, birthdays, and close family members. Still others require people to reveal their employment details as well as to share their hobbies and their likes and dislikes. Sandy (37) further notes that all this information, if accessed by malicious people, can be used to solicit or intimidate the owner. Such information has been used for business purposes like advertising and marketing without the knowledge of the owner.
Sandy (40) on her part indicates that while on the face value it may appear that social networks bring users together across the Internet, studies reveal that in a greater sense it has created social isolation. He reported a study showing that as people spend more and more time on social networks, they tend to experience less personal interaction. This has been evaluated by scientists as the case of social isolation in many studies. Sandy (40) reported that social isolation is closely associated with anxiety, somatic psychological disorders, and emotional and physical problems. According to a study carried out at University of Illinois at Chicago School of Medicine, social isolation was found to cause impairment in the brain hormones. Sandy (47) indicates that the study found that social isolation was likely to be the reason why most people experience great levels of stress, aggression, anxiety, and other mental issues.
Internet has also replaced social interactions. Nowadays many individuals prefer to chat online rather than having personal meetings. The Internet has taken up many people’s time, thus limiting the occasions spent with their close ones. Sandy (40) notes that initially, people used to amuse themselves by having conversations and playing games with each other. These modes of amusements have almost disappeared and are now replaced by modern Internet technology, such as computer games.
Moreover, Sandy (41) notes that many marriages are today affected because many people spend increasingly more time in the Internet than they attend to their partners. The increased Internet access especially in people’s homes has also made several people to prioritize their work over their relationships. This has resulted from the reduction in the time couples spend together. There has been around-the-clock access to the office by several individuals. This has also resulted into such problems as fatigue, reduced/lack of intimacy, and increased resentment.
Technology has also resulted into increased conflict and premature career burnout. All these factors negatively impact marriages and relationships. Sandy (43) observes that such gadgets as Blackberry phones and other portable communication devices are today causing havoc on numerous initially stable relationships. He observes that in some cases, the married have had to separate because of the failure of the partners to provide them with conjugal rights.
Children have not been left out either. Anderson (113) notes that apart from the growing problem of cyber bullying, the concern arising from the children’s use of Internet is addiction. The latter has led to the Internet taking over the role of parents in socialization. According to Anderson, most children in the contemporary society are growing up without interpersonal and interaction skills since they spend much of their time playing Internet games. He further observes that even the few friends that these children interact with are those who are connected with them in the society. This presents enough reasons for people to begin to be worried about the nature of the future society.
Anderson (115) further indicates that many of negative impacts of social networking have not yet been studied. Among the identified impacts which have not been studied is deterioration in grammar and language use. Social networking also may allow the spreading of information which may not be true. Furthermore, users, especially children, are exposed to online predators and bullies who may take advantage of vulnerable children and harass them with vulgar messages. Miller (16) says that social networking also can cause misrepresentation of facts about culture, race, and beliefs which may cause irreparable harm to the reputation of the users. Additionally, social networking is credited with decreasing productivity as workers form a habit of checking social sites while they are at work. This provision of information can increase the risk of personification and identity theft and creation of a platform for cyber bullying. Miller (16) indicates that cyber bullying occurs when there is a continual harm inflicted to the user of a computer, a smart phone, and other electronic device that is connected to the Internet
From the discussion above, it is evident that social networking has impacted almost all parts of human’s social life. It impacts the learning ability and health of children. The networks also continue to impact negatively the traditional societal values. However, social networking being purely about the interaction of users has facilitated the way people communicate. It is, therefore, clear that social networking has both positive and negative impacts on the society. However, it is important to note that negative impacts have been created by the users themselves rather than the technology of social networking, which in itself is well meaning and can transform the society if used correctly. After all it can be concluded that social networking can be both the downfall of human kind as well as the much awaited uniting factor in the world. Social networking is expressing the fundamental desire of human kind to be united, however, there would be the need of regulating the amount of time that people, especially the school going children, can spend online.