Social networking sites are a growing new media trend in society. They can implement a positive or negative effect depending on how the user users these sites. To create a personal online profile is simple. They usually target people from specific genres or linguistic groups. The privacy controls for these social sites is in the hands of the user. They have the choice to disclose information or allow it to be publicly available. Depending on how much information is available, determines the level of risk for the user as most users often underestimate the serious problems that may occur. These include identity being manipulated; the way users present themselves through online profiles which may have negative effects in the future. Not all usage of social networking sites have negative effects they can enhance relationships, build connections and networks with others and future job aspirations.
What is a Social Networking Site?
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A social network site is a web based service that allows individuals to (1) construct a public or semi -public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site. ( Boyd. D and Ellison. N, pg 1,2) The majority of social networking sites target people from specific geographical religions or linguistic groups, although this does not exactly determine the sites constituency. Many of these sites attract homogenous populations. Some examples of social networking sites are Facebook, MySpace and Bebo. These sites allow individuals to meet strangers and also enable the users to articulate and create their own social networks.
Privacy on Social Networking Sites
Privacy on an individual's personal social network profile is multi-faceted. In certain occasions the users want to display information about themselves however, they only wants this information revealed to close friends, not strangers. In other circumstances users are willing to reveal personal information to anonymous strangers, but not to those who they share a close relationship with. (Boyd.D & Ellison, 2007, pg 10) Privacy implications occur depending on the level of visible and identifiable content that is provided. Often users of these social networking sites find that their friend count is more important than what they display on their online profiles, they find it socially awkward to say no to the friendship request, resulting in an unknown user having access to the profile. (Boyd. D, 2008, pg 130). Social network sites that do not openly expose the user's identity are still at risk. The user may provide enough information for strangers to be able to link it back to the profiles owner. Lui and Maes state that this may happen through face re-identification. "Since the online users usually re-use the same or similar photos across different social networking sites, an identified face can be used to identify a pseudonym profile with the same or similar face on another site." (Boyd.D & Ellison, 2007, pg 11) An outstanding amount of information can be collected easily from these online social networks. This creates numerous questions of an ethical nature, among them questions of privacy, confidentiality and appropriation of personal content (Preece. J, 2000, pg 307). Facebook is a perfect example of this as it gives the users the ability to disclose a large or varied amount of personal information with the public. Some users infringe on the privacy agreement and create "hate groups" or deface someone from the community, which results in them from getting banned from the site or getting in trouble from the authorities. Facebook gives the user many privacy options to choose from, it's up to the user to decide what they display. Depending on the public information users provide on their online profiles, determines how much at risk they really are. It could result in extensive or intimate risks such as, identity theft, physical stalking, discrimination and blackmailing.
Identity is our own uniqueness of being separate from the environment. A sense of identity stems from consistency over time, it is the ability of the individual to provide a satisfactory answer to the question 'who am I' (Amichai-Hamburger. Y, 2005, pg 37). When online the identities can easily change and the person the user is chatting to may not be who they say they are. Once users sign up to these social networking sites they have officially opened themselves to the public, how people present themselves is up to them. For example MySpace profiles, users are able to express themselves and salient aspects of their identity for others to see and interpret. The information the users display on their profiles may not resemble their offline identity. Users are inclined but not forced to present a direct link between their offline and online identities which will well be perceived by their friends. ( Boyd.D, 2008, pg 129) An additional re-identification risk lies in making birth date, hometown, current residence and current phone number publicly available. This information could be used in people creating fake profiles or stalking. This can be seen when using the information available on peoples Facebook profiles. Users usually include a residence location, class schedule and location of last login. A students life is mostly dominated by class attendance, therefore knowledge of both residence and a few classes would help a potential stalker to determine the users' whereabouts. (Amichai-Hamburger. Y, 2005, pg 8)
Can Social Networking Sites harm future job aspects?
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Users of social networking sites often underestimate the potential for serious problems that may occur in the future. Without realising by signing up to these sites users must be careful as future job prospects and schooling could be at risk. These sites are attracting millions of users, many whom have integrated these sites into their everyday lives. (Boyd. D & Ellison. N, 2007, pg 1) Most firm administrators and managers know quite well the questions they can and cannot ask during a job interview. Employers turn to these social sites for personal information that they would never ask a candidate in a face-to-face interview. These sites thrive on users to reveal everything about themselves although without realising it could result in them being fired. Employers now have the technology to access potential employees' personal online profiles without them knowing. Information users display public such as use of drugs, drinking and inappropriate photographs, are some of the reasons why candidates are eliminated from their job. (Medintz. S, 2006) Students are also put at risk when creating these online public profiles. Displaying inappropriate information on these networks could result in violations of school policy or the code of conduct. Administrators do not monitor social networking sites, however if information or photographs appear on a student's account that violate the policy it is brought to their attention and reported, which could result in the issue being investigated further. (Medintz. S, 2006) Students are facing a similar situation as employees. They can be denied from future jobs, internships and even interviews because of the information employers are finding from these social networking accounts. Providing too much public information on these sites can harm students' chances to gain or even be considered for employment.
Benefits of Social Networking Sites?
Keeping in contact with friends, family and distant relatives are a benefit with social networking sites. Since the internet gives individuals from all around the world access to various social networking sites it means it is easier to stay in contact or make new friends. Facebook is an excellent example of this, the user is able to add friends and respond to friend requests when other users add them. Facebook also offers another feature called online chat, this enables the user the option to go online and chat to their friends which maybe online at that present time. Other benefits include uploading photos and being able to share them amongst friends and family. How the privacy settings are set is up to the users discretions, this is where this benefit could endanger the user. A photograph the user may think is appropriate other users could take offences to it or another user has uploaded a photo of another user with out their permission and has posted it on their profile. The feature of uploading Videos also is apart of the benefits in these social sites, although the same dangers are applied when uploading them to your profile. Creating events is also a feature available on various social networking sites such as Facebook. It is a simple tool which makes creating birthdays and small gathering easier as some users on the social networking sites may be overseas or in another town and being connected through Facebook or another social networking site may be the only point of contact. These social sites can also help with future job prospects as they enable you to communicate, seek and reach a larger audience in your specific profession.
Can Businesses benefit from these Social Networking Sites?
Businesses now have begun advertising on these social networking sites as they are becoming increasingly popular in todays society. Using Facebook as an example of this, business can pay to create ads. The users on Facebook are then allowed to click "like" on the ad which is a feature on Facebook, or click onto the ad and find out more information. Some businesses have displayed the specials that they have on at the moment, or offer special discount rates. One ad that caught my attention which has helped this business is Club Lime. Once the user click on their ad, they are taken to a new screen where it displays all the information about Club Lime. On this page they have incorporated their gym classes and session times. This helps expand on there members because even if the user is not a member of their gym the user is still able to go to their classes. It is also a more convenient way for the user to keep up to date with the session times of the gym classes without having to call up or enter the gym it is at there fingertips.
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Social online networking sites have the potential of being damaging if not used correctly. The implications of the ethical and regulatory in this type of media are in the users' control. The privacy settings are an essential part in the creation of these types of sites. Overexposing to the public could do more damage than good, it is hard to determine who is actually viewing these sites. Often users do not display their real selves, which could deface their Identity or worse ruin future achievements. These issues are important and should be understood before signing up, when in doubt read the terms and conditions to help avoid these situations.