Computers and the internet have become an essential part of modern living over the course of the last few decades. Software programmers have created numerous applications to increase the usefulness of these two inventions. One group of software applications that have emerged because of the growth of the internet and computing is the genre of social software (Selwyn 2009). This category of software is utilized by Social Networking Sites (SNSs) to connect individuals in the online environment. Boyd and Ellison (2007) observe that in the last ten years, many social networking sites have emerged and gained a significant number of users.
SNSs provide users with an online space where they can share and manage personal content and connect with other users on the site. Selwyn (2009) reports that the popular SNSs, which include MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter each have hundreds of millions of users from all over the world. The number of users is increasing even as computers and internet access become more prevalent in society (Boyd & Ellison 2007). The increase in SNSs popularity has led to a number of criticisms being leveled against them. Critics argue that these sites are harmful since they promote negative psychological effects, increase the risk of child abuse, and violate individual privacy.
On the other hand, proponents assert that there are significant benefits obtained from using SNSs. They state that SNSs promote interaction among individuals, increases the level of innovation in society, and encourage people to be politically active. This essay will argue that social networking sites make a more positive contribution to the lives of individuals and societies since they bring about more benefits than drawbacks.
Looking at this from the perspective of people who favor SNSs, we see supports from SNSs as they claim it increases the level of interaction among individuals and promotes innovation by fostering collaboration. By their interconnectivity, SNSs encourage people to stay in touch with their friends and make new friends (Himelboim 2012). Sites such as Facebook make it possible for people to be involved in the lives of their friends and family members through features such as photo sharing and status updates. This enhances the social lives of people who would otherwise find it hard to keep in touch with their friends or make new friends (Albrechtslund 2008).
SNSs also promote interactions among individuals who want to share knowledge. As such, it is possible to build knowledge communities using SNSs. Selwyn (2009) mentions that SNSs encourage collaboration among students as it provides a platform for them to work together on various projects. Innovation is promoted by SNSs since they give individuals an opportunity to benefit from the ideas of others. The sites bring together individuals who share interests in a certain subject. However, critics assume that SNSs lead to alienation by decreasing the frequency of face-to-face interactions. A report by the BBC (2009) states that as people become engrossed in socializing through sites such as Facebook and Twitter, the level of real personal interaction decreases. The popularity of SNSs has also led to people dedicating less time to face-to-face interactions.
The BBC (2009) documents that people have increased the number of hours spent interacting through electronic media often at the expense of physical contacts. While SNSs promise to enhance the social lives of individuals, they are, in actual sense displacing traditional human interactions, therefore, making people more isolated (BBC 2009).
People become more isolated, and this might lead to adverse health conditions such as depression and dementia. The innovativeness of individuals can be hampered since SNSs do not encourage critical thinking among students. There are fears that SNSs have a detrimental effect on the acquisition of traditional skills and literacy. Selwyn (2009) notes that SNSs have promoted the growth of a “Google generation” of learners who cannot engage in critical thinking on their own. Innovation cannot occur when students rely on their SNSs to obtain information instead of carrying out their own research. While it is true that SNSs have offset the traditional learning structure by providing channels for informal and unstructured learning, this might be an empowering thing for students.
Selwyn (2009) concedes that SNSs provide students with access to useful knowledge and ideas that can spark novel research on topics of interest. The networking services provided by these tools enable the student to link up with students who share similar interests. The exchanges between learners fostered by SNSs are a desirable outcome among educators since it leads to better-motivated students (Selwyn 2009). The learning outcome of students and their innovativeness is therefore enhanced when they make use of SNS tools for their studies.
A significant benefit of SNSs is that they promote political activism and, therefore, foster change in society. SNSs serve as an important forum for people to discuss political issues and share their opinions. Himelboim (2012) notes that the intriguing political discourse held by others can make an apolitical person develop an interest in politics. In addition to this, SNSs are a cheap and efficient tool for mobilizing people to engage in the political process in their country.
SNSs have been used as potent tools for political activism in various countries. In the US, campaign strategists for the 2008 Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, made use of SNSs to organize and prioritize their campaign efforts (Barras 2009). SNSs were also used to motivate voters to turn up at the polling stations. More radical use of SNSs to promote political change was witnessed during the Arab Spring. In Tunisia, social media was the primary way through which popular uprising was initiated and subsequently encouraged. Activists made use of Facebook and Twitter to encourage Tunisians to protest against government oppression in the country (Alqudsi-ghabra 2012).
According to Beaumont (2011), SNSs were used to marshal the uprising that led to the fall of the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak. Activists used these sites to mobilize protesters against the oppressive Mubarak regime. Due to these efforts, the country was able to overthrow the regime, and a democratic government was elected by the people. On the other hand, critics think that SNSs can promote low-risk activism that does not lead to any changes in society. This accusation is valid for the type of activism encouraged by SNSs does not require people to make any real sacrifices to bring about change (Joseph 2012). Most individuals only share political material or sign up to causes from their computers and take no action to achieve the political objectives. The ease with which any person can engage in online activism leads to the presence of many apathetic activists. As such, a certain cause might have thousands of supporters on the SNS, but this might not translate into any real action on the ground since the supporters are, in most cases, not committed to the cause.
Sokari (2010) warns that SNSs are likely to create armchair activists who do not engage in actions that make a real difference in the world. While SNSs might create some armchair activists, they also lead to the dispersal of information on a previously unprecedented scale. Sokari (2010), who expresses skepticism over online activism, admits that an ordinary block can be used to spark social change by providing information that forces people to focus on issues of importance. He also notes that when used as part of a strategy that incorporates real work on the ground with communities, social media can be a potent tool for political and social change in society.
There are some dangers that SNSs pose to children, but they can be mitigated or completely eliminated. The negative impact on psychological development occurs when children are allowed to use the sites for extended periods of time and without adult supervision. Wintour (2009) acknowledges that children who are confined to the home every evening with unlimited access to the internet are more likely to overindulge in the online world. With restricted access, children can be able to use the SNSs in a healthier way (Kiss 2009). Concerning the risk of exposure to sexual predators, steps can be taken to increase online safety for children.
Kiss (2009) notes that the major SNSs, including Facebook and MySpace, have signed pacts aimed at increasing the safety of young people in the online environment. The major Social Networking Sites have banned sex offenders from using their services and limited the ability of adults to search for the profile of children (Kiss 2009). There are tools available to report abuse and any inappropriate contact from other users. With such tools, children are empowered to remain safe in the online environment. However, critics have the opinion that these tools are detrimental to the psychological development of children, and they impose the unnecessary risk of abuse to children.
SNSs such as Facebook and Twitter present the user with short messages that are sometimes of a sensational nature (Wintour 2009). This lack of cohesive narrative encourages short attention spans in the user and creates a taste for sensationalism. Wintour (2009) notes that children are especially at risk since their minds are in their formative stages. The conditioning created by exposure to SNSs is, therefore, likely to have a long-term impact on their lives. Wintour (2009) reports that, according to Lady Greenfield, who is a leading neuroscientist, SNSs decreased the ability of children to empathize and lead to the development of a weak self-identity.
In addition to this, SNSs Critics of SNSs declare that these tools have made the world more dangerous for children by increasing the likelihood of children being preyed upon by sexual predators. This assertion is reinforced by reports indicating that child molesters use sites such as Facebook and MySpace to lure and groom children for sex (Minchin 2010).
The online predators use SNSs to stalk children and establish a relationship with the aim of making the children perform sexual activities online or in the real world. Without a doubt, children are exposed to some risk when they venture into the internet. Minchin (2010) confirms that malevolent individuals can use SNSs to gain the trust of children and then abuse them. However, this risk can be significantly minimized by increasing parental supervision to children’s activity on SNSs (Kiss 2009). In addition to this, children can be educated on how to avoid exposing themselves to online predators. Major SNSs such as Facebook have embarked on safety campaigns that are aimed at educating children and their parents on how to increase their protection while online (Minchin 2010). Through such efforts, children can make use of SNSs to enhance their social and academic lives without subjecting themselves to danger from online predators.
This essay argued that social networking sites have a greater positive contribution to society in spite of the negative effects that these entities have. It began by highlighting how SNSs have gained popularity over the last decade. It then set out to discuss some of the most important benefits of SNSs to Society. Increase in social interaction, promotion of innovation, and fostering of political activism. These positive aspects of SNSs have major benefits for society.
However, the essay has also mentioned that SNSs can impede on the psychological development of children and increase the risk posed to children in the online environment. However, these risks can be mitigated through parental supervision and safety measures implemented by SNS companies. This would lead to the individual and the society enjoying the benefits accrued by SNSs without suffering from the negative effects. In the end, it would be fair to conclude that with the negative effects of SNSs countered, SNSs could play a very positive role in society.
Alqudsi-ghabra, T 2012, ‘Creative Use of Social Media in the Revolutions of Tunisia, Egypt & Libya’, International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, vol. 6, no.1, pp. 147-158. Web.
Barras, C 2009, ‘Innovation: How social networking might change the world’, New Scientist Magazine. Web.
BBC 2009, Online networking ‘harms health’. Web.
Beaumont, P 2011, ‘The truth about Twitter, Facebook and the uprisings in the Arab world’, The Guardian. Web.
Boyd, D & Ellison, N 2007, ‘Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship’, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 13, no.1, pp.45-56. Web.
Himelboim, I 2012, ‘Social Media and Online Political Communication: The Role of Interpersonal Informational Trust and Openness’, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 56, no.1, pp. 92–115. Web.
Joseph, S 2012, ‘Social Media, Political Change, and Human Rights’, Boston College International & Comparative Law Review, vol. 35, no.1, pp. 145-188. Web.
Kiss, J 2009, ‘Social networking sites sign teen-protection pact with EU’, The Independent. Web.
Minchin, R 2010, ‘Parents warned as paedophile postman is jailed’, The Independent. Web.
Selwyn, N 2009, ‘Faceworking: exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 34, no. 2, pp, 157–174. Web.
Sokari, E 2010, My shadow of a doubt over online activism. Web.
Wintour, P 2009, ‘Facebook and Bebo risk ‘infantilising’ the human mind’, The Guardian. Web.