As witnessed in the recent years, online social networking (herein referred to as OSN), which takes place on such network sites as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace, have emerged as a major aspect of contemporary human society. Out of the various social networking sites available today, Facebook continues to maintain its position at the top. It is the most preferred social networking site in the world today.
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The site had more than 90 million active members as of 2010. The management in the company boasts of controlling 85 percent of the total market share. The site is especially popular among university and college students in the United States of America (Haridakis & Hanson 2009).
Another networking site, MySpace, was ranked second in popularity. Twitter was a close third in ranking. Currently, Facebook has over 900 million active users. Students, organizational employees, and members of the general public, continue to utilize some of these OSN sites to keep in touch with other people from around the world.
They rely on the sites for messages, alerts on events, personal updates, news feeds, and generally to keep track of their friends. To determine the popularity of the various sites, Chiarella (2010) conducted a research on young children aged between 8 and 17 years. The children selected for the study were using the internet for various purposes. Chiarella (2010) found that almost 50 percent of the children had created their own profile on these sites.
Based on these findings (and others), it is argued that irrespective of the age factor, there is an increased use of (and in some cases over dependency on) OSN sites. The current paper is written around this issue. In the paper, the author focuses on some of the ethical and social implications of dependency on OSN sites. The author works on the assumption that using the sites has both negative and positive effects on humans in the society.
According to a research conducted by Hargittai (2012), the various technologies based on Web 2.0 have varying social implications on the users. During the adoption and implementation phase (where active users create their profiles together with those of friends and relatives), the social networking sites help in shaping modes of communication in the society.
Through such a strategy or such a mechanism of communication between different individuals, the social networking sites end up impacting on the way people present ideas and interact with each other. The link created between individuals who utilize OSN sites has helped to open up a number of communication channels in the society.
It provides an opportunity for communication between people who may not be able to meet face-to-face. Williams & Merten (2008) note that, the voluntary messaging status on such sites as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, allows for an instant and faster messaging when using the sites. Such features are only affected by technological failure. When initiated, it is possible to conduct it from any place and at any time.
For example, the user can access the services from their smartphone when they are working, travelling, or in class. In most cases, dependency on these OSN sites allows for what Williams & Merten (2008) refer to as ‘one-to-many’ mode of sharing data and other forms of information. The sharing is achieved through invitations from friends. The user enters the communication ‘multiple’ or loop using the ‘@’ sign.
In their journal, Mattern, Langheinrich & Bohn (2012) point out that both young adults and adolescents have become the most active users of this technology over time. They access the sites through the internet and computers.
OSN is one of the latest tools of communication that, when used for a long period of time, allows its active users to create either public or private profiles. Using such profiles, they continually invite their friends and family members for communication. It is one of the social impacts of OSN sites. It helps to bring people together.
Scholars have documented some negative impacts associated with dependency on OSN sites. The dependency affects the performance of such individuals as students and employees in the workplace. However, the results of research work conducted by Lassala (2008) show that a good number of students prefer to have their teachers to use Facebook for socialization purposes.
Furthermore, students used in the study believed that dependence on OSN tools allows them to share knowledge on a formal education setting. Haridakis & Hanson (2009) showed that continued use of social publishing sites like weblogs in education helps in rejuvenating the learning and educational atmosphere.
Mattern et al. (2012) agrees with the assertion that dependency on these OSN sites has negative impacts on the active users. They, however, warn that the benefits of the sites should not be overlooked. The benefits notwithstanding, individuals should be aware of the negative implications of these sites on human society. Studies conducted on adolescents who are frequent users of these OSN sites reveal that their profiles portray the desire to share intimate information publicly.
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The intimate information touches on various social issues, such as dating and partying. What this means is that dependency on these sites makes intimate and private information public. According to a research conducted on college and university students by Hermans (2009), more than 60 percent of young adults report they are obsessed or addicted to such OSN sites as Twitter page and Facebook. The findings made in this research are comparable to the developmental stages identified later by Ahmed & Tham (2011).
The developmental theory expounded by Ahmed & Tham (2011) suggests that young adults and adolescents falling within the 12-18 age brackets experience a high rate of psychosocial crisis. Some of the issues that end up affecting them psychologically and physically include lack of self identity and varied forms of confusion.
At this developmental stage, adolescents and other young adults become conscious about their social interactions, peer relationships, and their sexual identity. The sharing of intimate information over the OSN sites may be an indication of the need to keep in touch with their friends in other parts of the world or within their locality.
In fact, joining Facebook or Twitter in the first place is an indication of peer influence. In their study, Hargittai (2012) concludes that continued dependency on these OSN sites affects the academic performance of university and college students. It affects their class attendance, their concentration in class, and their general performance in exams.
The impacts are both negative and positive. For example, the student may use most of their time socializing on these sites and end up neglecting their studies. In other cases, the student may share academic information with teachers and other students, improving their academic performance.
Apart from the studies documented above, very little research has been conducted on the consequences of dependency on OSN sites. The few studies conducted in this field continue to paint a negative picture. The excessive use of (or over- dependency on) network sites, as already indicated, may succeed in creating a link or channel of communication between people in different parts of the world. However, the dependency may end up isolating the same people.
The people who spend most of their time browsing and chatting online get alienated from their responsibilities. For example, they avoid getting in touch physically with the rest of the community members. Their social interaction skills are negatively affected. They find it easier to interact from behind the veil of the blogosphere than on a personal basis.
Furthermore, the increase in the duration of time spent on these sites means that there is little time left to participate in community activities. Therefore, the individual’s level of participation in the community decreases drastically.
Ahmed & Tham (2011) are of the view that there are several ethical considerations associated with dependency on OSN sites. The considerations touch on, among others, issues to do with privacy, ability to maintain profiles, and ability to disclose accurate information to the site administrators. At the time of account registration, OSN tools require one to provide their details for identification purposes.
Initially, Facebook administrators promised to protect the personal information provided from unauthorized third parties. But the question begs, why does a purportedly simple opening and registering of a Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace account become an ethical concern? Baran (2010) tries to address this question in their article. The scholar states that at the time of registration, the individual may not have the slightest idea on the addictive nature of these sites.
As time goes by, the individual continues to spend more and more time on the sites. The increase in the time spent on these sites exposes the individual to other people’s private information. As a result of this, the initial and intended privacy for active users loses its meaning. The continued use of these sites exposes the individual to the public. For example, celebrities find it very hard to lead a private life as their information is shared over the internet by OSN sites’ users.
From the discourse above, it is obvious that submission of one’s details to the social sites may compromise their privacy. However, the same submission may perpetuate concealing of vital information from members of the public. For example, in a research conducted on college and university students by Baran (2010), it was found that 30 percent of the respondents did not use their true identity when registering on these sites.
The misleading information raises the question of the ethical implications of such practices on the rest of the users. OSN sites allow active users to invite other people who, by accepting the friendship requests, may make the commitment to meet face- to- face. A number of incidents have been reported over time where an individual goes to meet an ostensibly innocent person they have interacted with online.
The individuals may end up on the hands of criminals and other parties with ill intentions. The victims may be subjected to stigmatization by the rest of the society, especially if they were raped or abused physically. The stigmatization is another negative impact of dependency on these sites.
Drawing from the above discussion, it is imperative to note that social network is a platform that allows the active users to create their own profiles, easing communication between individuals from different parts of the world. As a result of technological innovations, many people prefer to use the social networking sites to keep in touch with their friends and family.
The continued use of these sites may be beneficial or harmful to the individual. The ability to strike a balance between the use of the sites and commitment to other activities, such as education and work, will determine their impacts on the life of the individual.
Through a comprehensive review of literature existing in this field, the researcher concludes that there are various ethical and social implications associated with dependency on OSN sites. Some of the implications are positive, while others are negative. To this end, OSN sites are not any different from other technological innovations that have both negative and positive impacts on the society.
On a positive note, dependency on OSN sites helps active users to create a link that helps them communicate and share experiences with other people. As a result, the sites promote social cohesion in the society. On a negative note, dependency on these sites may lead to isolation and alienation of active users from the rest of the community.
There is also the threat of exposing private and confidential information to third parties. It is important to note that the way individuals use the social networking sites determines the implications they have on their life. As such, moderate and responsible use of these sites is more beneficial than it is harmful.
Ahmed, A & Tham, J 2011, ‘The usage and implications of social networking sites: a survey of college students’, Journal of Interpersonal, Intercultural and Mass communication, vol. 2 no. 1, pp. 20-21.
Baran, B 2010, ‘Facebook as a formal instructional environment’, British Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 41 no. 6, pp. 146-149.
Chiarella, D 2010, ‘Encouraging formative peer review via social networking sites’, Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 40 no. 1, pp. 179-183.
Hargittai, T 2012, ‘Ethics and social networking sites: disclosive analysis of Facebook’, Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 41 no. 5, pp. 67-69.
Haridakis, P & Hanson, G 2009, ‘Social interaction and co-viewing with YouTube: blending mass communication reception and social connection’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 53 no. 2, pp. 317-335.
Hermans, M 2009, ‘Impressions, improvisations, and compositions: reframing children’s text production in social networks sites’, Journal of Educational Technology, vol. 40 no. 1, pp. 179-183.
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Williams, AL & Merten, M 2008, ‘A review of online social networking profiles by adolescents: implications for future research and intervention’, Adolescence, vol. 43 no. 170, pp. 253-274.