An Overview Of Social Networking Computer Science Essay

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Social networking - more specifically Facebook - has changed the way mostpeople - who are connected to the internet - communicate. It has enablednew avenues of personal connection, collaboration and information sharing thatwas only conceived a few years ago and because of the raw nature of theinternet, it has exploded in population; with some sites having more membersthan countries have citizens (Pingdom).

The law enforcement community has always been forced to change their tactics asnew technologies are developed, evolve and generally adopted by the generalpublic but in recent times they have had to accelerate the adoption of newcyber technologies to remain only a step or two behind the criminals.Facebook has simultaneously complicated and simplified investigations byallowing large amounts of personal and private information to become availablewith only a few keystrokes yet providing criminals with many new and innovativeways to communicate, thus avoiding eavesdropping. Making this even moredifficult for law enforcement, Facebook pride itself on providing ease ofaccess, widespread access and a robust feature set to anyone with an internetconnection.


On October 28th, 2003 Mark Zuckerberg - a sophomore at Harvard - was dumped byhis girlfriend (Bertoni and Gell). In an attempt to get his mind off ofhis broken heart, he started developing a ‘hot or not' site that promoted usersto choose the ‘hotter' looking picture between the two pictures displayed tothe user. Harvard administration quickly shutdown the site after only acouple days when it was revealed that Zuckerberg had hacked into a Harvardserver to get the private dormitory ID images from nine houses for use onFacemesh. This was only the first attempt to get Facebook started and dueto an overwhelming acceptance by the student body at Harvard during the shortfew days that Facemesh was online, Zuckerberg decided to make a few changes andstarted TheFacebook in February 2004 (Hoffman).


On January 11th 2004, Zuckerberg registered the domain name ‘'and began the process of turning the social networking world upside-down( In only a few hours after the site went live on February 4th2004, there were already over twelve hundred registered users and by the end ofFebruary, over seventy-five percent of the undergraduates at Harvard wereregistered on the site (Cassidy). At first registration was limited tothe students at Harvard but just after a month online, TheFacebook expanded toinclude several other Ivy League colleges followed shortly by allcolleges. In 2005 the domain name was purchased for $200,000dollars and became simply (Williams).


It didn't take long before venture capitalists were knocking down the doors,offering double digit millions to invest with the latest and greatest upstartcompany that was spreading like a California wildfire. Currently Facebookhas over 400 million active users with more than half logging into the site onany given day (Facebook). As of March 13th 2010, Facebook and became the number one visited website for the week(Dougherty). Taking into consideration the 1.6% equity stake Microsoftmade - costing Microsoft $240 million - in Facebook on October 24th, 2007,Facebook is now estimated to be worth over $15 billion dollars(Microsoft).

The popularity of this site has been highly attractive to campus administrators,law enforcement and just about anybody who is looking for a cheap backgroundcheck on another person as most people do not consider the ramifications ofposting something on the internet. The amount of information that somepeople post on Facebook is enough for other people to live another lifevicariously through an online profile or provide officials with enoughincriminating evidence to take action against the Facebook user.

The use of Facebookin investigations

High School and Middle School

Facebook has been used throughout its short life as an investigation tool byvarious college officials to penalize students and staff alike for theirmisdoings. Underage drinking has always plagued college campuses but nowwhen students post their pictures from recent debaucheries, they often forgetthat once something makes it online, it cannot be taken back. Over ahundred Eden Prairie High School students found this out the hard way in late2007 when photos posted on Facebook surfaced showing the students at variousparties. Several students were suspended from school sanctioned sportsand extracurricular activities (Smith and Blanchard). High schoolstudents are not the only ones finding themselves in hot water over Facebookpostings, more than 20 middle school students in Seattle were suspended forbecoming fans of a group that focused on belittling an 11 year old McClureMiddle School student (Hana). Studentsare also being suspended for verbally attacking teachers. A sophomore atOak Forest High School in Chicago was suspended for five days after creating afan page titled “Anyone who has had a bad experience or plain dislikes[teacher's name]” (Greiner).

High school and middle school students seemly do not take into considerationthe ramifications of posting questionable material and how it can impact theirimmediate future… particularly college acceptance.


Facebook has its roots in college and from the beginning it has had more thanenough controversy to go around. Not only did a survey show that collegestudents who use Facebook get lower grades than students who do not use thesite but social networking has also been used to prevent at least one studentfrom getting a degree (Hsu). Stacy Snyder - a MySpace[1] user - was denied a teaching degree in 2007 after apicture that she had posted to MySpace was brought to the attention of Jane S.Bray, dean of the School of Education at Millersville University inMillersville, Pennsylvania (Feldman).

In late 2005 a group of college students at George Washington Universityorganized a party that was shut down by campus security and local police.Several students were charged with underage drinking and most of the studentsblamed the campus security for monitoring Facebook for parties and otherquestionable activities. The students retaliated by hosting another partywith a few modifications to the activities, menu and drink selections.Instead of beer, they had cookies and cake decorated with the word“beer”. Instead of beer-pong - a popular drinking game - they hadcake-pong. The students insist that the campus security and local policeknew about the party and waited an hour after it started before coming in toshut it down. According to Kyle Stoneman - the party organizer andplanner - “The look on the faces of the cops was priceless” (Hass).

Law Enforcement

When it comes to Facebook, the law enforcement community has much more thanprankster college students. On August 28th 2009, Jonathan G. Parker brokeinto a house in Fort Loudoun, Pennsylvania. He came in through a bedroomwindow, stole some jewelry and riffled through the homeowners belongings beforeusing her computer to check his Facebook status. To make matters worsefor Parker, he forgot to logout or even close the web browser window, leaving atell tale sign who was in her house (Marshall).

Stupid criminals are not the only ones who have been caught thanks toFacebook. Pasquale Manfredi was once on Italy's top 100 wanted criminalslist for being a ferocious and violent Mafia boss until his Facebook habitallowed law enforcement officials to track him to his hideout. Manfrediwas on the run for several months prior to being arrested by Police ChiefAngelo Morabito. In an interview with ABC News, Morabito said that eventhough Mafia members are in hiding, they still “need to keep in touch either bypassing notes, using cell phones or, in these days, via computer” (Wise).

Police are not immune to Facebook blunders. In a small village nearSowton, Devon, a man was celebrating his 30th birthday with a few of hisfriends when officers wearing camouflage and body armor stormed the party anddemanded that the party disperse or everyone would be arrested. To addinsult to injury, the police that stormed the property were accompanied by apolice helicopter, RIOT van and four police cars. The police decided toraid the event after Andrew Poole created an event on Facebook and invited 17people - of which only 15 showed up - to his birthday party. Poole saidhe advertised the party as an “all night party” just in case people decided tospend the night (Daily Mail).

Law enforcement officials have admitted to creating bogus Facebook accounts togain access to other users profile information. In the fall of 2008,Tyrelle Luebker was 20 years old and a student at the University of Wisconsinat La Crosse. He and several other students had posted pictures ofthemselves and others drinking at a local festival. They quickly foundthemselves in a La Crosse Police Department interview room answering questionswith the pictures printed and presented to the students. It was later discoveredthat the La Crosse Police Department had created a Facebook account under thefalse name Jenny Anderson and they used an attractive woman in the profilepicture to entice the students to accept the friend request (Aujla).


Millions of people are posting intimate details about their sex lives, criminalactivities and other information generally considered private so does that meanthat privacy is dead? Webster defines privacy as “secrecy”(Merriam-Webster) and it defines secrecy as “the habit or practice of keepingsecrets or maintaining privacy or concealment” (Merriam-Webster). Thatbeing said, with all the information available for an individual, it couldeasily be conceived that privacy is dead and that point would agree with acomment Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made at a recent conference. Hesaid that a reasonable expectation of privacy is no longer the “social norm”(Johnson).

Danah Boyd is a Social Media Researcher at Microsoft Research New Englandand she takes a different approach to the subject of privacy. She arguesthat privacy is not dead but is evolving and that like everything else, thedefinition of privacy needs to evolve with the times (Bradley). Boydargues that people still care about privacy and that privacy has evolved intothe control of information and not the actual information itself. Herviewpoint on privacy contradicts Zuckerberg so who is right and why?


Is it ethical to use Facebook to investigate people? Just becausesomebody posts to their Facebook profile something that they would freely talkabout in public, does it make it right to use that information during aninvestigation, as grounds for eviction or even arrest and incarceration? Severalethical issues are raised when looking at these questions luckily there aremany different widely accepted ethical viewpoints that can be used to look atthese issues; some are workable and practical whereas others are onlytheoretical.

Subjective Relativism

Subjective Relativism relies on an individual to choose what is right andwrong while only taking into consideration how the decision is going to impactthe decision maker and nobody else. This is not practical becauseif it was left up to each individual to choose the ethically correct answer tothe question “Is it ethical to use Facebook to investigate people?” then therewould be more privacy standards than there are users on Facebook because eventhose who do not use Facebook would most likely want their own privacystandard.

Cultural Relativism

Cultural Relativism is similar to Subjective Relativism in that theethically right and wrong decisions are decided by what best for the decisionmaker but it differs in that Cultural Relativism takes into consideration theoverall impact on the culture. This is also an unworkable ethicalpractice because it leaves out the individual and does not take intoconsideration the impact of an opposing viewpoint by another culture.

Divine Command Theory

Divine Command Theory is almost a workable theory but it does not take intoaccount that there is no universally accepted “higher power” or “supreme being”to look to for answers. While the vast majority of people believe in theChristian God, there is a large population that does not (The Pew Forum).Divine Command Theory leaves out and ignores those who do not believe and assuch, this theory becomes unworkable in real life.


As the first workable theory, Kantianism is dynamic in that it looks atethics and morality through a set of universal laws that are defined by areasoning process. According to Kantianism, it is wrong to use a personas a means to an end but instead, each person should be considered an end ontheir own.

Facebook investigators are not using individuals as an end, the ethically rightthing to do according to Kantianism. Instead they are using people togain knowledge about other people, the ethically wrong thing to do in thissituation.

Act Utilitarianism

Act Utilitarianism allows an ethical decision to be made by weighing theoverall good against the overall harm to all parties involved with thedecision. The problem with Act Utilitarianism is that it can easilyfacilitate discrimination by neglecting various parties in the decision makingprocess.

During the past few years, Facebook has changed their privacy policy severaltimes. Some people - like Mark Zuckerberg - argue that it is for thebenefit of the users to force these policy changes on over 400 million peoplebut others - like Danah Boyd - argue that by changing these policies, it isfurther eroding the general public's reasonable expectation of privacy.Taking into account the vast numbers of people impacted by the changes, thefact that the changes usually open up areas of user's profiles to the generalpublic and that these areas were closed to the public prior to the changes, ActUtilitarianism would declare these changes to Facebook as not ethical.

Rule Utilitarianism

Rule Utilitarianism is another non-workable ethical theory because itfocuses on everybody following a universal set of rules. In theory, ifeverybody were to follow a carefully selected set of rules and guidelines,everyone would have the maximum amount of happiness. Rule Utilitarianismdoes not take into account that there are people who will choose not to followthe rules, thus throwing off the balance that Rule Utilitarianism creates.

Social Contract Theory

Social Contract Theory is about the most accurate theory to best describethe current status of Facebook, investigations done via Facebook and privacywithin Facebook. In Social Contract Theory everyone unconditionallyagrees to allow the establishment of a set of moral rules and to allow agovernment - provided the capacity - to enforce the rules. In short, themasses are controlled by a few elite who make all the decisions that everyonemust follow. If anyone in the masses decides not to follow the rules,they are exiled from the society. Exile in the digital world can comefrom simply being denied access to a site or by doing something stupid in thedigital world resulting in real world consequences.


Facebook has changed the way the majority of people communicate. It hasallowed people to freely express themselves but there are those who will takeadvantage of this general trust in humanity. Education is needed to helpprotect people new to the social media world and there has to be some form ofrecourse taken against those who prey on the digitally inexperienced.

Criminals, college students, grandparents and about one third of the entirepopulation of the United States have a profile on Facebook( Regardless how any one individual feels aboutFacebook, it has the potential to impact over six percent of the globalpopulation and it is here to stay.


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[1] MySpace is acompetitor to Facebook