In the past decade, social networks have become prevalent with many people preferring them as the means by which to keep in touch. This has led to the establishment of many social networking sites. The SNSs have brought about significant merits and demerits for the users.
To begin with, the SNSs have resulted in invasion of privacy as internet companies use personal data given by the users in manners that violate the privacy rights of the individual. Also, the anonymity of the users has been in question as the SNSs encourage people to reveal more information about themselves and make finding people fairly easy despite attempts that a person may make to shield themselves.
SNSs also encourage the sharing of opinions which may be cause for embarrassment for the user in future; this is especially the case with teenagers who share too much information without regard for the consequences. SNSs also make spying easier therefore making people vulnerable to stalkers and snoops. The sites also make it easier for children to be molested as SNSs give predators a tool to stalk victims.
The government also uses SNSs to profile potential criminals and also enhance its surveillance capabilities. This may result in a surveillance society in which the government monitors every aspect of its citizen’s daily lives.
On the positive side, SNSs have enhanced the social lives of many people by enabling them to connect with their friends as well as widen their circle of friends by giving them the means through which to meet new people. In addition to this, SNSs have continued to deliver quality products and services to their customers by use of the data which SNSs obtain from the individual.
Through this essay, it is observable that SNSs have more demerits than merits to the society. It can therefore be concluded that SNSs create more problems to the user than the solutions they yield.
While the past century has had many great achievements, the most epic accomplishment of the century was the invention of the computer and the subsequent creation of the internet. These two entities have virtually transformed the world as far as information processing and communication is concerned. One of the areas which have exhibited huge growth as a result of advances in computing and the internet is social networking. Social networking tools have become very popular attracting millions of user all over the world.
Proponents of the social networking sites have hailed them for their ability to help people keep in touch and network. However, SNSs have also resulted in problems for the individual mostly as a result of the information that is provided about a user through the sites.
This paper shall argue that social networking sites (SNSs) create more problems to the user than the solutions they yield. To support this claim, this paper shall set out to illustrate the various ways in which SNSs have created problems for the users. The paper shall also highlight the merits of SNSs in order to provide a balanced view.
Problems Caused by SNSs
Invasion of privacy is one of the issues that have taken center stage in the 21st century. This has mostly been as a result of the technological advances which have meant that invading of the individual privacy is not only feasible but easily achievable. SNSs have provided a potent platform through which the invasion of personal privacy can be carried out.
Castro (2010, p.2) reveals that many internet companies intend to use personal data in manners that clearly violate privacy. They do this by obtaining personal information from the user and then sharing the same with a third party without the explicit consent or in some cases knowledge of the user. As such, personal information is distributed therefore denying the person of the right to privacy.
In most cases, anonymity is not guaranteed in social networking sites. While in the past social networking sites sought to protect the real identify of the individual by encouraging the use of pseudonyms, most of the present day sites “encourage” people to use real names through technical specifications or registration requirements (Gross & Acquisti 2005, p.1). This ‘arm-twisting’ results in most people revealing their real identity to the online community even when they would rather not.
In addition to this, anonymity may be compromised even when a person goes through the trouble of hiding their identity. Gross and Acquisti (2005, p.1) reveal that by use of face re-identification, the links between a person’s independent profiles may be made therefore leaving him exposed. Furthermore, SNSs such as Facebook share information such as a person’s IP address every time the user sends or receives a message without the consent or even knowhow of the user.
Social Networking Sites encourage people to share opinions and share information that may be a cause for embarrassment in the future. This is so because the sites place the information in the public domain where it can be viewed by many people.
Albrechtslund (2008) states that youngsters in particular are prone to sharing their uncensored thoughts and give information that may have greater implications on their future careers. This is because the information may be revealed to a potential employer and as such, the individual’s chances of landing a job may be hurt as a result of the social networking activities especially if they are of a profane or controversial nature.
As a result of technological advances in social networking, spying on other people has been made easier than ever before. SNSs allow people to create profiles of themselves which are then made available to the public.
The people who view this profile may not always be friendly or well meaning. Albrechtslund (2008) christens social networks as “a snoop’s dream” since they have the capability of enhancing the tasks of a stalker with very little effort on their part. SNSs therefore promote the social vice of spying and stalking on other people.
One of the uglier effects of SNSs is that they have made the world more dangerous for children. While parents have always been wary of the company their children keep and they have sought to protect them from unwanted attention, SNSs have increased the risk presented to children by raising the likelihood of children being preyed upon in the online environment.
By use of chat rooms, children may be lured to meeting strangers who may then proceed to sexually abuse them. Barnes (2006) documents that in some instances, “online predators use these sites to stalk victims. As a matter of fact, a number of children have been molested by people they met via SNSs demonstrating the risk that these sites pose.
Albrechtslund (2008) asserts that government interest in online social networking is immense since the SNSs give the government an opportunity to profile potential criminals. By use of SNSs, governments can obtain a lot of information on an individual ranging from their place of residence, their workplaces, their religious and political affiliations as well as their circles of friends.
By use of this information, the government can closely monitor a person and enhance their surveillance capabilities. The surveillance capabilities that SNSs give to governments may be abused by oppressive regimes therefore turning a country into a “surveillance society” where the government monitors and intervenes in every aspect of its citizen’s daily lives.
Benefits of SNSs
While it is true that SNSs may be used by the government for monitoring, we live in a society where the need for public security and safety is sometimes in conflict with personal freedom.
Considering the fact that surveillance is viewed as an essential law enforcement tool, it can be proposed that monitoring of messages exchanged through SNSs is justified since most law abiding citizens have nothing to hide hence need not fear the surveillance. While this argument does hold true since surveillance is at times necessary to protect the public interests, it fails to consider that the privacy is a fundamental right for all and as such, it should be respected.
SNSs have been credited with enhancing the social lives of many people. These sites have led to people who would otherwise find it hard to make friends having the opportunity to meet and befriend new people therefore widening their circle of friends. Albrechtslund (2008) acknowledges that while the friendship that social networks enhance may appear shallow, SNSs enable people to socialize and keep in touch with friends that they rarely interact with in real life. These sites therefore give people an opportunity to maintain their friendships.
It has been argued that the use of private data is necessarily for SNSs to deliver products and services to their customers (Castro 2010, p.1). In instances where the users feel that the SNSs are abusive, they always have the choice to stop using the services of the sites.
A majority of the users choose to continue enjoying the services provided by the SNSs despite the alleged violation of their privacy showing that they value the services offered more than the privacy of their personal information. While this may be the case, it is necessary to enlighten the users of SNSs of the manner in which their private data will be used to enable the users to make an informed decision on whether or not to subscribe to the services offered by the SNS.
This paper set out to argue that social networking sites create more problems to the user than the solutions they yield. To reinforce these claims, this paper has outlined a number of setbacks that arise from the use of social networking sites. It has been illustrated that by using SNSs, the privacy of users is greatly inhibited. Young users can also fall prey to sexual predators as a result of these websites.
This paper has also demonstrated that the some governments use the large amount of private data made available through SNSs to monitor their citizens. However, this paper has also shown that SNSs enhance communication between friends and may in fact lead to better security for the citizens of a country.
While social networking tools have gained great relevance in contemporary society, this paper has demonstrated that the risks that SNSs pose to the users are not justifiable. It can therefore be affirmed that SNSs are indeed more troublesome than advantageous to the society in general.
Albrechtslund, A. 2008, “Online social networking as participatory surveillance”, FirstMonday, Vol 13, No 3.
Barnes, B. S. 2006, “A privacy paradox: social networking in the United States”, FirstMonday, vol 11, no. 9.
Castro, D. 2010, “The right to privacy is not a right to facebook”, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).
Gross, R. & Acquisti, A. 2005, “Information revelation and privacy in online social networks (the facebook case)”, ACM Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society.