An in-depth analysis of Myspace, Facebook and other Social Networking sits that examines their benefits, problems and the effects they have on journalism, students and society.
As the Internet age progresses, social networking sites are becoming more and more popular. Every day people are signing on or signing up to be a user of any particular site. Facebook boasts more than 170 million users (Levinson) with Myspace not far behind. What makes this particular type of website so popular? Well a number of reasons; one being that everyone is doing it. When most of your peers are doing something, most likely you’re going to want to do it too but the crowd logic is not always the smartest. Just because everyone seems to be doing something doesn’t mean you should too. Potential users should act as an individual and consider both the good and bad aspects of social networking websites. It will probably save one the embarrassment, shame and anxiousness in the future.
Three benefits of Facebook, Myspace and other online communities are interaction with friends, family and co-workers/peers and marketing for businesses and organizations. Theses sites also provide an easy way for people with similar interests and hobbies to congregate. Both sites host a number of “groups,” which according to Paul Levinson, author of New New Media are “communities” of users who share and discuss links, texts, photos and videos of similar interests.” Any member of each site is free to form these units, some of which can possibly effect change on social, economic and/or political fronts.
These sites even have educational benefits according to a study done by the University of Minnesota. Learning technologies researcher of the school’s College of Education and Human Development and the primary investigator of the study notes that Myspace and Facebook actually provide more then socialization and networking. “What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today. Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content and thinking about online design and layout. They’re also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practicing safe and responsible use of information and technology. The Web sites offer tremendous educational potential (Science Daily).
Another benefit of theses sites is the ability of users to interact with their counterparts. Facebook and Myspace employ a number of applications that allow members to easily connect with each other. Chat rooms, instant messaging, blogs, messages, comments, videos, and even games help people keep in touch with their peers, parents, and even professors. Although some parents and educators are weary of the sites assuming teenagers and younger children will come in contact with unsavory characters and ultimately danger Lisa Tripp co-author of the Digital Youth Project disagreed. “This kind of communication has let teens expand their social circle by common interests. They can publicize and distribute their work to online audiences and become sort of a micro expert in that area (Goff).
In addition, social networking sites allow businesses, schools and organizations to market. Users can easily access information about their favorite charity, future college or even Broadway show. Members can now see themselves dance at the end of each “Hair” performance. These “dance parties” are taped and placed on the show’s website. From there visitors can download the video onto their social networking page, Facebook for instance. President of Situation Interactive, Damian Bazadona, utilizes this form of marketing to promote shows. “Since the average person has 130 friends on Facebook, I think ‘Hair’ will see huge organic growth from this,” he comments (Healy).
Businesses also gather valuable information from social networking user pages. Information posted on a member’s profile such as gender, residence, interests, hobbies and other personalized data influence how and what type of services and products businesses offer you. Items posted on public domains such as blogs and forums. Some users even find it helpful for companies to suggest items they might like based on their interests. These interests also help companies put together behavior profiles on users. According to Erica Sandberg, personal finance reporter, in an article for CreditCards.com, companies do not have access to you credit report-a big concern for consumers but the credit you are offered and receive. Sandberg goes onto say that associating with “friends” with good credit scores can only benefit you. You association makes you a good credit risk (Betancourt).
Just as there are advantages of social networking websites, there are disadvantages also. Some problems/dangers of Myspace, Facebook and others are cyber bullying and stalking, addiction, and lack of privacy. A huge problem for these sites is the “ganging up” or actions of others intended to humiliate and ridicule another. The National Crime Prevention Center found that 40% of adolescents (who have Internet access) reported being bullied online from 2007-2008 (Levinson). Cyber stalking is similar to cyber bullying but it is usually an individual activity. The Internet is used to shadow a target and can possibly lead to real world stalking.
Another danger of Myspace and Facebook is addiction. Many users find themselves obsessed with the sites. They are constantly worried about missing something, an update, comment or status change. More and more teenagers are suffering from this compulsion. Privacy is also an issue. Employers, schools and other important parties have access to Myspace and Facebook pages. Explicit material, certain messages, crude comments and inappropriate pictures can cause judgments and perceptions from those that hold a powerful position. Users should also be aware that anything posted on these sties will be their indefinitely. There is no redo button.
Recently Facebook users have been give more control over their pages, deciding what content users can see but information like you name, state, gender and even photograph can be accessed. This change was made so users can more easily find people.
“The change we’re announcing is equivalent to requiring a name to be in a phone book completely out of order without a phone number,” wrote Barry Schnitt, a Facebook spokesman. Schnitt also comments that there are some other ways to avoid detection by people who aren’t you friends. He goes onto say that “Users come to Facebook to connect and share, not to hide.” Of course this is true but Facebook shouldn’t be considered as an online “phonebook.” It is a site where people can find others but that doesn’t mean members want to be found by everyone (Stone).
I believe that the most important benefit and problem of Myspace, Facebook and other social networking sites are linked. While the greatest benefit of these sites is the ability to stay in touch with people, this can cause the biggest problem, which is the addictive quality of these sites. Yes, these sites allow people who have busy lives to stay in touch with loved ones, long distance friends and others but it can also foster a dependency. Some people become obsessed with checking their pages, messages and comments, not wanting to miss any online movement of their friends. This addiction may not seem as serious as narcotics or alcohol but it’s just as important. Addicted people withdraw from the real world and become isolated, which can potentially lead to other psychological problems not to mention the health problems. Just like spending hours on the couch watching television, the Internet is a sedimentary activity where you usually sit in one place, hours upon hours.
British scientist Susan Greenfield, the director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain and a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University believes that social networking has a negative effect on children at a February 2009 debate in the House of Lords. She also believes that these sites can possibly lead to deficit-hyperactivity disorder. “If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales,” she says (Mackey). I don’t exactly agree with Greenfield but I can clearly see the correlation between brain dysfunction and excessive use of the Internet and social networking sites. The inactivity of the Internet probably won’t effect most people unless they are repeatedly spending hours just sitting.
Journalism as a whole has also been impacted by social networking sites. In past times the journalist was most likely a faceless name. If your picture wasn’t printed beside your article or column the average reader would never actually know who you were but today’s journalists are faces and names. Myspace and Facebook, especially host the pages of many writers. Some articles may even have links to the author’s respective page. These sites allow the author and the reader to communicate on a professional level exchanging feedback between the two parties. These social networking sites also allow authors articles to be disbursed to a wiser audience. If one user comments, “likes” or posts to their Facebook “wall” about a story, all their friends are notified. These friends and the electronic sharing continues. Journalism is now reflecting the trend. Most stories are posted on their source websites allowing people to email it, Facebook it, Myspace it and even Digg it. Social networking sites are also hosts to user blogs which bring even more traffic to journalists’ pages.
Also with the creation of social networking and Internet as a whole, journalists and /or news organizations cannot own a story anymore. BBC Global News Division Director Richard, Sambrook notes the change. New stories are no longer specific to one institution since it will be shared with the general public (Bunz). He also takes into account “citizen journalism,” which can be described as “people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another” (Rosen). This change in media may cause some to think of journalism as accessive or repetitive but I believe it enhances journalism. Now everyone can be a reporter bring much needed variety to the world of news. Some could also say that citizen journalism is not real journalism but this type of media is more personal and can place attention on things that are important to a group of selective people; news that major outlets aren’t even aware of.
Online journalism (through social networking sites) provides more of a well-rounded structure for readers. Not only do these stories include text, pictures and headlines, they can utilize online videos, slide shows, links to related stories and other interactive features (Rosales).
As with anything, social networking sites present the good with the bad. They help us socialize with people when face to face contact is not available but they can cause addiction. They provide us online communities with those we share interests with but there is also a lack of privacy, where most anyone can access information on us. They’re ideal for marketing but can cause bullying and/or stalking. The list goes on. Users can only do what seems fitting; take everything in moderation. Beware of people online, be conscious when posting anything and be aware. People should be cautious but not fearful, careful but not paranoid. Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and other sites are becoming a way of life and will probably only grow in popularity. The only thing potential users can do is take it in stride and remember that “we choose the nature of technologies. They don’t choose us” (Vaidhyanathan).
- Betancourt, Leah. “How Companies Are Using Your Social Media Data.” Mashable.com. Mashiable: The Social Media Guide, 2 March 2009. Web. 3 march 2010.
- Bunz, Mercedes. “PDA: The Digital Content Blog: How Social Networking is Changing Journalism.” Guardian.co.uk. Guardian News and Media Limited, 18 Sept. 2009. Web. 3 March 2010.
- Goldberg Goff, Karen. “Social Networking Benefits Validated.” Washingtontimes.com. The Washington Times, 28 Jan. 2009. Web. 2 March 2010.
- Healy, Patrick. “Hair’ Has New Way to Spread the Love.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 2 Feb. 2010. Web. 2 March 2010.
- Levinson, Paul. New New Media. New York: Penguin Academics, 2009. Print.
- Mackey, Robert. “The Leade: Is Social Networking Killing You?” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 24 Feb 2009. Web. 3 March 2010.
- Rosales, Rey G. The Elements of Online Journalism. iUniverse, 2006. Print.
- Rosen, Jay. “PressThink: A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism.” Journalis.nyu.edu. PressThink, 14 July 2008. Web. 3 March 2010.
- Science Daily. “Education Benefits of Social Networking Sites Uncovered.” ScienceDaily.com. 21 June 2008. Web. 2 March 2010.
- Stone, Brad. “Facebook’s Privacy Change Draws More Scrutiny.” NYTimes.com. The New York Times, 2 Feb. 2010. Web. 2 March. 2010.
- Vaidhyanathan, Siva. “Our Digitally Undying Memories.” The Chronicle.com. The Chronicle of High Education. 5 March. 2010. Print.