A social networking site can be defined as an online service  that is based around the building and reflecting of social relations among individuals with common interests or social ties.

Social networking sites such as Friendster, Linkedin, Spoke, Face book, MySpace and Twitter all vary slightly, yet the one main feature they have is that they enable users to create a profile within the website to represent themselves and allows uses to interact through email, instant messaging and other integrated communication channels within the site (Papacharissi, 2009).

The popularity and growth of social networking sites over the past five years has been colossal, as many people from all over the world join up to this social phenomenon for varied reasons. Today, there are more than 500 million active users on face book and users spend over 700 billion minutes per month on this social networking site (Facebook, 2011). As the technology of Web 2.0 improves and advances, social networking sites have an even bigger impact on society and human relationships, both positive and negative. This paper argues that social networking sites have a negative influence on children, teenagers and adults, increase the ease and prominence of cyber bullying, increase personal insecurities and feed addictions and weaken strong personal ties. This paper also argues that social networks create distraction and decrease productivity and profits within the workplace and can also can jeopardise a company’s reputation. Social networks also increase the ease of identity theft and bring to light other privacy issues as well as lead to an overall decrease in our face to face social skills and confidence. This paper will demonstrate that social networking sites do cause more harm than good.


Identity Theft

Identity theft is a huge problem in today’s society and has come about as a result of the rapid expansion and availability of internet technology and the increase in personal data found on social networking sites. In fact “A total of 806,000 Australians aged 15 years and over were victims of at least one incident of personal fraud in or identity theft  in 2008” (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008).Sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter facilate identity theft in two mains ways. The first being is that sites encourage you to ‘edit your profile’ this includes adding your interests, full name, where you live, who your top friends are, your email address and even personal details like your phone number an relationship status. “Users share a variety of information about themselves on their Facebook profiles, including photos, contact information, and tastes in movies and books.”(Jones & Soltren, 2005). This information disclosure causes a huge problem as the more information you have on your profile the easier it is for identity thieves to verify themselves as being you. The second main issue is the privacy settings on these social networking sites also help faccilate personal fraud. Whilst there are built in features that allow users to change their privacy settings and not allow other users to view such personal details, these settings are never default, so that users are usually unaware how much information they are sharing not only with their friends, but with the rest of the world “By default, profiles on Friendster and Tribe.net are crawled by search engines, making them visible to anyone, regardless of whether or not the viewer has an account” (Boyd & Ellison, 2007).

A general lack of awareness amongst users and the fact that digital identity can be easily hacked makes social networking sites a hub for identity theft which results in unwanted legal hassles, loss of money and years of trying to re-establish a victim’s credit and good name (Acquisti & Gross, 2006). This is why it is important for “users of social network systems to be aware of the value of the data they are making available online and of the ways that is can  pote3nitally be used”  (Donath & Boyd 2004). Furthermore another privacy issue that social networking sites face is that they encourage users to overshare very private information that can easily be used against them. For example the location based social networking site Foursquare encourages users to ‘check in’ at various locations to win points and earn badges and discounts.

However these ‘check ins’ are in real time and essentially users notify others where they are, but more importantly when they aren’t home. For strangers and thieves this is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of such knowledge and rob someone’s house while they are out. A web site called “Please rob me” has been set up to raise awareness about over-sharing and highlights these kinds of privacy issues that social networks create “Location based services also raise myriads of privacy issues due to the ability to collect, store, use and disclose the locations of users.” (Anuar  & Gretzel, 2010). In this respect social networks like these pose serious privacy concerns.


Cyber bullying

Cyber bullying refers to “bullying through information and communication technologies” (Webster, n.d), mediums such as, emails, mobile phone text messages, phone calls, internet chat rooms, instant messaging  and most importantly and recently, social networking websites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo (Webster, n.d). Whilst cyber bullying is not physical it’s emotional and psychological effects are devastating for the victim and can often lead to suicide and depression (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010). Cyber bulling in terms of social networks is a huge issue as more than 50% of American teenagers aged from 12 to 17 use social networking sites (Hall, 2010). Online bullying is often seen as the easy way out. Social Networking sites act as a platform where bullies can say things they might not usually say to someone in person, anonymity and less physical proximity act as a wall between the bully and the victim, none the less, the words or rumours that are shared are still just as hurtful.  Bullies often feel more confident online and they can contact their victims any time, anywhere, day or night, not just in the school yard (Smith et al., 2008). For example in 2009 a 14 year old girl committed suicide as a direct result of cyber bulling. The daughter’s mother spoke out in an ABC news report and explained that “Friday night she was on the internet and told me about some message that had come through, and she wanted to die because of the message. I laid in bed with her and we discussed it for about an hour and she left me fairly happy. I can guarantee you if she didn’t go on the internet Friday night she’d be alive today.” (Dikeos, 2009).

Additionally another well know case of cyber bulling that resulted in suicide was the case of Megan Meier who was constantly teased tormented and riven to her death from intense cyber bulling. “13 year old Megan began receiving nasty messages from a boy after a few weeks of an online flirtation with him, via her MySpace account, ending with one that suggested ‘the world would be a better place’ without her. Megan, believing she had been rejected by “Josh,” committed suicide in her home.” Times Topics, Megan Meier. (2011). The sad part was that Josh was just a fictional character, created by a mother of one of Megan’s former friends. These two case studies bring to light the fact that cyber bulling is a massive problem that is not only exists all over the world, but is only made possible by the use of social networking sites. Without such platforms for bullies to target their victims the rate of teen suicide and depression would most likely drop.

Groups on facebook can be created to make fun of or abuse particular people or ideas. On facebook I found groups titled “I hate Kevin Rudd” and on their wall things like “ F**k you Kevin!” and “I can’t believe they let this di***ead become foreign minister”. Also a recent incident that was covered on the news showed the negative comments towards babies and their parents over facebook surrounding the ‘Bonds Baby Search’. Some comments under a photos said “A child only a mother could love” and another baby was called an “ugly duckling” (Cute baby competition turns ugly, 2011). Comments like these are spiteful not only to the babies, but for their parents as well. This in itself is another form of cyber bullying that has been made possible via the increased use of social networking sites. It is clear that social networking sites aid in the prominence of cyber bulling which is just one of the negative impacts that social working sites has on society today.


The weakening of strong ties & isolation

The way we communicate with our peers and with strangers over the internet is changing. Another negative impact that social networks have on our relationships is the fact that whilst they might strengthen our weak ties we have with acquaintances and people we don’t see often, they are in fact weakening our strong ties and also bring about physical social isolation. The term ‘social networking’ misleads people into believing they are being social, “Facebook isn’t considered a social network but more a public phone book or search engine. Contact is minimal and impersonal (Carr, 2010).The news feed feature on facebook and twitter keeps us in the loop with everything that our close friends and family are doing. Why would one call their friend to ask them what they got up to on the weekend, when clearly all they have to do is look at their news feed and find all the details along with pictures entailing their lives. Traditionally we would regularly call each other, or go out of the way to catch up. Nowadays the urge to contact each other over the phone or even face to face isn’t as important because we feel like we are still connected via social networks ( Thomas, 2007). This idea of constantly being connected is awful in the way that personal interactions between friends are more superficial than they were before Facebook and other social networking sites. Users are also more likely to let more time pass between face to face encounters because they still feel like they are in contact as they constantly have tabs on all of their friends. A case study that was done in America revealed that “ twenty-five percent of the respondents in the 2004 survey appear to have no close ties, up from ten percent in 1984. Additionally a similar study amongst college student found that “1 in 7 say that social networking sites increase feelings of isolation” (Katonda News Network, 2010)  As well as “Nearly 70% report reading posts from someone close to them that seemed like a cry for emotional help, and while most students would offer support in some way, fewer than half would make a personal visit” (Katonda News Network , 2010).  It is clear that the rise of social networks has increased social and emotional isolation and diluted the strength our human relationships.


Workplace interference 

Social networking sites can have a negative impact in the workplace, for both employers for employees and future employees. They create distraction, decrease productivity, cost companies money, can jeopardise a company’s reputation and legal liability and for those users who don’t have their profiles set to private can often result in unemployment. “If every employee in a 50-strong workforce spent 30 minutes on a social networking site every day, that would work out to a loss of 6,500 hours of productivity in one year!” (Kelleher, 2009).Social networking sites can also be damaging for prospective employees looking for work ,as facebook and MySpace are fantastic resources for companies as they offer revealing information about a candidate’s true colours. Several profiles often contain awkward and embarrassing information that job seekers would not want their future managers to know about themselves. “According to a new study conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.com, 45 percent of employers questioned are using social networks to screen job candidates” (Wortham, 2009)..Moreover, there have been many instances where personal status updates or blog posts have hurt or damaged a companies reputation, thus seeing many employees loose their jobs over mindless updates that they didn’t think twice about. For example in 2010, Jaguar ambassador and swimmer Stephanie Rice tweeted “Suck on that f**gots,” (Robertson, 2010) after a rugby game the Wallabies had won. Many twitter users and public figures referred to it as a gay slur and even after a public apology, Jaguar Australia general manager Kevin Goult announced that “Jaguar Australia today terminated its relationship with Stephanie Rice, who has been an ambassador for the Jaguar brand in Australia since the start of 2010.”(Robertson, 2010).

Another fine example of one employee who damaged his reputation before he even stared at his new job was a Cisco employee who tweeted “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty pay check against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work” It wasn’t long before Tim Levad, a channel partner advocate for Cisco Alert, shared this open response, “Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.”( Popkin, 2009)It is clear that social networking sites can have a damaging effect on not only employees but the companies themselves. Users are unfortunately unaware that everything they post on their profile is public information and even if your profile is set to private your boss or work colleagues may still be fronted with this information at some stage in the future.

As social networking sites become more popular by the day, the rise of negative social effects within our society also greaten. We have and will see further instances of cyber bullying; more cases of identity theft and additional privacy breaches. We will also see our strong relationships diluted to a more superficial and ‘convenient’ type of relationship. We will continue to see a further decrease in productivity within workplace and also more instances of company’s reputations and names being brought into disrepute. Social networking sites have had a huge negative impact on our mental and social health and will continue to do so into the future. It is also now evident that social networking sites facilitate all these problems, and without them they would cease to exist. Therefore it is undeniably true that Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and the like do in fact cause more harm than good.

source: Online Communities and Social Networks Conference