The Potential Dangers of Social Networking
Teens and families need to be aware of negative effects
Since 2003, social networking sites have been on the rise with populations rapidly expanding each day. Common interest sites especially, have been capturing the interest and attention of preteens and teens in America. They use these sites for the purpose of connecting with friends and to know the latest scoop, to meet new people, and to promote their “likes” and interests. According to a Pew research project, fifty-five percent of all online American teens belong to sites such as MySpace and Facebook. These teens, ages twelve to seventeen are greatly influenced by social networking sites. Though there are advantages to these sites, they are outweighed by the disadvantages.
Teens began using social networking sites in 2006 when MySpace held the largest population of online users. MySpace became popular through its connection to the entertainment industry. Artists first used MySpace as a means to get their material out into the public. Teens were intrigued by this site due to their capability of decorating and designing their own page which shared their favorite music, photos, and personal characteristics. MySpace remained the most popular site for teens as well as adults until Facebook conquered the number one spot in 2008.
Facebook was designed by Mark Zuckerburg in 2004. It was originally an online directory and was founded on the Harvard University campus. Initially Facebook was just meant for students to find and contact fellow students. It was meant to serve the purpose of keeping track of who was new in college to getting in touch with each other for project purposes.
When Zuckerburg realized his creation could generate revenue it became open to first other universities, and then to high school students. It attracted over 600 million American users as of January 2011. Facebook offered many of the same characteristic as MySpace but had more simplistic profiles and a lack of stream able music. Facebook also offers an array of online games that become addicting upon first play.
Online games like Farmville and Mafia Wars are not the only addicting factor on Facebook. Social network sites may be productive for teens in small doses but many teens are spending so much time on the sites that they’ve become addicted. Teens become addicted to these sites because they allow them to know what their friends are doing and everything that goes on within their high school and community. They live in fear that they will miss out on something by not checking their Facebook newsfeed.
This addiction is affecting teens mentally and socially. According to an ABC news report, 350 million teens on Facebook spend at least an hour on the site each day. But a lot of these Facebook junkies spend much more time on this site keeping up with their friends.
In an interview, sixteen year old Neeka Salmasi said “Facebook is like an addiction. You get on to update your status and next thing you know two hours have passed." Neeka’s mother also spoke out in this ABC news report to say that she was neglecting her chores and her homework, her grades had begun to slip, and she was becoming obsessed with constantly checking her Facebook. Many other teens like Neeka are experiencing these symptoms of addiction as well. In a recent Pew poll, 48 percent of teens said that they check Facebook periodically during the night or first thing in the morning.
With this excessive use, so many teens in today’s society are finding it difficult to balance social media and their everyday lives. Parry Aftab, an internet safety expert stated that when things rise to the level of addiction, things are out of balance and grades are going down. Students don’t have offline friends and they are not doing offline things. They are all consumed by these sites and checking them as much as possible.
In an ABC poll,many teens said that they have seen these sites affect their learning and study habits. They say how easy it is to start their homework then find themselves browsing Facebook an hour later. This is causing procrastination and distorted priorities in teens. With the widespread use of smart phones, Facebook has become an app that can be used anywhere with cellular access.
Despite the wishes of education administrators, students will use these apps during instructional time. This excessive use in school has caused administrators to block the programs from school computers and even block cell service inside their buildings. They do so to keep their students from social distractions as well as the inappropriate content they may come across on the site. Regardless, this excessive “Facebooking” cannot be healthy for our generation.
This generation’s reliance on technology has caused teens to spend more time inside and online and having few close relationships and too many that are online. Teens are ultimately forgetting how to interact with people outside of the cyber world. The comfort, ease, and anonymity of online interactions have changed the way teens treat one another. With these cyber sites came Cyber bullying.
According to psychologist Anthony Pellegrini, Bullying is a specific form of aggression and one that is used deliberately to secure resources like friends, self-esteem, and self worth. Sites like Facebook and MySpace make this easy through public posts and retaliations that encourage other mutual “friends” to join in. In fact, peer to peer harassment and bullying is the most common disadvantage to these sites. “This is where students are finding their identity and terrorizing each other.
Cyber bullying is contributing to a generation of socially maladjusted adults and social networking sites are paving the way. The hostile environments on these sites have helped cause this generation of girls to become superficial and cutthroat by behaving more like or worse than boys." This electronic meanness can lead to depression and more serious, suicide.
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), about 8 out of every 100,000 teenagers committed suicide in 2000. For every teen suicide death, experts estimate there are 10 other teen suicide attempts. In a survey of high school students, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that almost 1 in 5 teens had thought about suicide, about 1 in 6 teens had made plans for suicide, and more than 1 in 12 teens had attempted suicide in the last year. Excessive bullying ranks high when it comes to the causes of suicide in teens . The long term affects of this public humiliation can be drastic and can stay with teens throughout their lives.
Even if teens are not being bullied, the immense amount of friends or followers that teens have on these sites is an indication of their unhealthy and distorted view on relationships. “It hasn’t occurred to much of our generation that maybe we aren’t meant to have hundreds of relationships. Humans are really designed to handle only a few close friends. We live in a generation where more is better and the more friends we have the better we feel about ourselves."
The number of friends teens have is also affecting their ability to sustain offline friendships and intimate relationships. Much of today’s youth spend the majority of time talking to their boyfriend or girlfriend through technology. Sadly, the first thing you do when becoming official is to update your relationship status on Facebook. When the relationship ends it’s almost more devastating to see your significant other publicly end the relationship before you on Facebook. These types of relationships can be dangerous especially when you can see what the other person is doing at all times. Social networking sites make it easy for stalkers to know where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re with based on how often you update them.
Another danger found with use of social networking sites are predators and stalkers. When teens complete their online profile, they have typically given away much of their personal information. Any of their “friends” can have access to their full name, birth date, school, and even their exact location (Using the Check-in feature on Facebook). Not only is it possible for someone to hack your profile, they could also steal your identity. Naïve teens will often add almost anyone to their list of friends making it easy to come in contact with online predators and sex offenders. In 2007, MySpace was able to find and delete 29,000 profiles of known sex offenders, but what about the unknown or not found? Those sex offenders could be preying on teens as we speak.
In Sydney, Australia a news report stated that a teenager was allegedly murdered by a Facebook friend who used the site to lure his victim to a remote bush land where he raped and killed her. A Virginia Tech student had also disappeared and was murdered by a stalker of her blog on MySpace (Barrett 3). These situations go to show just how safe teens must learn to be when using these sites. It is not a good idea to accept the request of anyone you do not know personally.
Another major aspect of social networking sites is their advertising capabilities. Many businesses use these sites to get their products or services out there and popular with the public. Though they may be profitable, many of these ads are not suitable for teenagers.
According to a leading drug and alcohol expert, Paul Dillon, Alcohol companies are bypassing advertising guidelines and encouraging binge drinking by promoting product to all ages on Facebook. He has warned school communities that social networking sites and social drinking are closely linked, with adolescents unaware of the dangers of both. This type of false advertising is done in two ways: marketing campaigns and the sharing of photos in which teens are partying and drinking alcohol. Teens are also exposed to racy photos or even porn ads in the margins of their profiles.
Photos of partying can also affect teens when they apply for their first job. Kelly Christian, owner of Bounce U Lexington warned that she checks Facebook immediately before making any hires. “You can tell a lot about a person’s morality and even their work ethic based on the content on their profiles." She has also been known to fire her high school employees based on inappropriate content on their pages.
Teenagers must realize that with each status or photo they post they are leaving a digital footprint that is available for the rest of the world to see. No matter the privacy settings they have, there are still ways in which photos and information can be found and shared. The content on a teens Facebook page today could follow them throughout college and into their later careers. It’s possible that this content may even come back to haunt them if their future businesses were to check these sites.
Even though Facebook and MySpace help teenagers stay in touch with friends and make plans they are doing more harm than good. ABC News Reporter Dan Harris warns parents to keep teens away from social networks as long as possible. It is important for parents to monitor their child’s use on these sites or even block it on their computer if they are using it improperly. It may also be useful for adults to create their own page and befriend their child as a way of keeping tabs on what their child is doing.
Despite these measures of precaution, use of these sites is a gateway to harassment, predators and false advertising. Being exposed to this intensity at a young age could produce harmful, long term affects on teens. The negative effects of social networking sites by far outweigh the positives. With that being said, social networking sites are not a productive or appropriate way for teens to be spending their time.
Research and information for this article gathered from numerous sources.