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A social network is a map of the relationships between individuals, ranging from casual acquaintance to close familial bonds. Virtual communities are built around affinity and similarity.
Social networking sites allow people to gather online around shared interests or causes, like finding people who live nearby or who are in the same age range. It is also one of the most popular Internet activities among teenagers. Friends are everything to a teen. New technologies in the last few years have provided opportunities for teens to make “cyber” friends in addition to their real world friends.
These sites allow teens to design their own personalized page on the Internet, much like an interactive scrapbook, that can include their favorite music clips, their choice of background designs or wallpaper, photos, favorite quotes and any other information about themselves and anyone else that they wish to include.
The websites combine many Internet features into one: personal profiles, blogs (web logs like an online diary or journal), places for photos and videos, the latest news in pop culture about music groups or hot new products, opinion polls, user groups, and more.
Some of the most popular social networking sites for teens include MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo.
Social networking websites have potential for both negative and positive consequences. These are public websites. Which means people of all ages, interests, and backgrounds have access to them. Due to the information sharing nature of these sites, teens face on critical and dangerous problems caused by using their personal information from others.
There are many positives things about these websites when used appropriately. Creation of a personal web page can be a very creative outlet for a teen. Frequent entries into an online blog can give teens practice in writing and expressing their thoughts and opinions, which would improve their communication and language skills. Through using technology, teens are learning how to play with and use large amounts of data and information. Teens are also learning skills needed to build a website and use other technologies. Some other positive facts of the social networking websites are that people who share the same interests interact. They make these site a meeting point. They share school research documents and develop artistic talents and experiments with other forms of content creation.
While most of this online interaction is just for fun, there are dangers for teens.
While today’s teens may be more digitally savvy than their parents, their lack of maturity and life experience can quickly get them into trouble with these new social venues.
On the other hand, abusing of the social networking websites occurs harassment, tormenting, or sexual advances. Some criminals locate person with only his/her last name and town.
To protect the teens from these online predators we need to look into the reasons why like these sites.
Why are teens so attracted to social networking websites?
1. Consider the world in which today’s teens have grown up. The media has made very public the personal lives of well known people from entertainment, sports, and political circles. Celebrities live out their lives in the limelight. Other examples are TV reality shows many of which are popular with teens.
As mentioned earlier, friends are everything to a teen. As today’s teens are growing up, they view the Internet as a place to “hang out” just as real world places are. Using the Internet to connect to friends they know in person and to make new friends is a natural step – it’s just another way to communicate. Today’s teens are a self-publicizing generation. It is natural for them to put information out there.
A normal developmental task for teens is figuring out their identity. For example, it is typical for teens to “try on” different identities through their clothing and hairstyle choices. Designing a webpage complete with favorite symbols, quotes, and pictures can also be viewed as a way to “try on” an identity, test an image, and get feedback from others.
2. These sites expose teens to the world. They enable teens to access people living anywhere in the country or in foreign countries, as well as their peers from school. It’s a place where they can create and showcase who they are and also keep tabs on all of their friends. Unless under a hidden view or setting, profile pages are open for all to see. But teens love social networking sites because it’s their space. There is a sense of empowerment attached to controlling a piece of their own world and this is typically a world where parents are not present.
Privacy and Security Issues in Social Networking
There are very serious privacy and safety issues with regard to social networking sites.
Anyone worried by privacy issues on social networking sites should ask themselves the question: is the next generation even going to be bothered by online security? A survey in the U.K. has discovered that 25% of teenagers have either hacked or attempted to hack their mates’ Facebook accounts–despite four out of five of them admitting that they knew they were doing wrong.
Most of the 1,150 under-19-year-olds, who were questioned anonymously, said that they tried to crack their friends’ passwords for fun. Some 21% said that they hoped to cause disruption (as Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg allegedly did at Harvard). A successful hack, however, was harder to manage than the kids had envisaged, with 82% saying they hadn’t succeeded.
As regards Facebook and privacy issues, there’s been a fair amount of keyboard pounding. The problem, it’s implied, is with Zuckerberg’s company ethos as he strives to eke as many dollars as possible out of the site. However, perhaps there is some meat in the argument that kids are less bothered about what actually constitutes a person’s right to keep his private stuff just that.
Tufin Technologies, the firm that commissioned the study, claims that it demonstrates that kids needed educating about what is and isn’t acceptable with online privacy. “Playing around with computers and trying to understand the system can be leveraged for good and bad purposes,” said Reuven Harrison, one of the co-founders of Tufin. “There’s a fine line at which point it becomes something bad. Children don’t always understand where that line is.”
Risks associated to the use of social network services identified up to now include the following:
The notion of oblivion does not exist on the Internet. Once stored it stays there forever. Data, once published, may stay there forever, even when the data has been deleted them from the “original” site, there may be copies with third parties. Additionally, some service providers refuse to speedily comply with user requests to have data, and especially complete profiles, deleted.
The misleading nature of the “community”. If users are not openly informed about how their profile information is shared and what they can do to control how it is shared, they may by the misled into thoughtlessly sharing their personal data they would not otherwise. The very name of some of these sites like “MySpace” creates the illusion on the web.
“Free of charge” may in fact not be “for free”. Many social networking providers make money by selling user data such as email to service providers for marketing purposes, e.g. for (targeted) marketing.
Traffic data collection by social network service providers, some providers have an ability to collect and record every single move by a user. Some details like IP address are given to third parties for advertising. Note that in many jurisdictions these data will also have to be disclosed to law enforcement or secret services upon request, including maybe also foreign entities under existing rules on international cooperation.
For many of the social networking site user data are only the thing they have to make profit. So they use it to maximize their profits.
Giving away more personal information than we think. For example, photos and, “social graph” functionalities popular with many social network services do reveal data about the relationships between different users.
Misuse of profile data by third parties: This is probably the most important threat potential for personal. Depending on available privacy settings profile information, including pictures are made available to the entire user community. And very little protection is present against copying any kind of data from profiles. Law enforcement agencies and secret services are other entities.
Possible hijacking of profiles by unauthorized third parties.
Use of an insecure infrastructure.
The introduction of interoperability standards and application programming interfaces to make different social network services technically interoperable entails additional new risks.
Social issues –
Cyber-Bullying by Teenagers
Should society be concerned? Many teens argue that rating is harmless fun. Fun it probably is, but whether it is harmless only time will tell. Teachers, lecturers and professors could find themselves unknowingly the subject of ribaldry, criticism, victimization or worse. Potential exists for slander and defamatory suggestions, if ratings are accompanied by gossip.
Social Networking and Harassment
The internet has had a reputation for being a platform for online bullying. Sometimes cyber-bullying has involved student to student situations. Sometimes harassment issues in the workplace have found their way online and teens have been targeted by online predators. Teenagers have found themselves giving statements to the law about bullying allegations, now this could affect teachers too.
Online Bullying – Health Issues for Teachers
Stressed teachers, who are sometimes trying to give of their best in difficult circumstances, could be subjected to additional emotional and psychological trauma. Teenagers can be cruel in their humor and comments could be misleading, inaccurate, or derogatory, with scope for invention and exaggeration.
Some would not realize that an online campaign of uncomplimentary performance ratings, ridicule or even threats might have negative consequences for teachers’ well-being.
Laws Pertaining to Social Networking Sites
The two most important statutes to consider when discussing the legal liabilities and obligations of the social networking sites are Section 512(c) of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Section 512(c) removes liability for copyright infringement from websites that allow users to post content, as long as the site has a mechanism in place whereby the copyright owner can request the removal of infringing content. The site must also not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to the infringing activity.
Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes website from any liability resulting from the publication of information provided by another. This usually arises in the context of defamation, but several courts have expanded it to cover other sorts of claims as well.
Thus, if a user posts defamatory or otherwise illegal content, Section 230 shields the social network provider from any liability arising out of the publication. Websites that, in whole or in part, create or develop contested information, on the other hand, are deemed “content providers” that do not benefit from the protections of Section 230.
For example, MySpace.com attempts to restrict the ability to view underage profiles by preventing older users from accessing them. In effect, the web site filters the content based on answers provided during registration to ensure that only minors of certain ages can view other profiles from that age group. This would almost certainly qualify as meta-information under the Roommates.com decision, and would bump MySpace out from under the protection of Section 230.
In addition to these federal statutes, several states have enacted or proposed laws that would create requirements for social networking sites, particularly in regards to monitoring the presence and activities of sexual predators using the sites.
For an example, the North Carolina state senate recently passed a bill requiring that parents and guardians register with a social networking site and verify their ages before their children can sign up for an account. This is to counter the difficulty in verifying the ages of minors, who usually lack credit cards or other sources of information concerning their ages. That bill still requires approval from the North Carolina House of Representatives.
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
The New Problem of “Sexting”
“Sexting” refers to sending a text message with pictures of children or teens that are inappropriate, naked or engaged in sex acts. According to a recent survey, about 20 percent of teen boys and girls have sent such messages. The emotional pain it causes can be enormous for the child in the picture as well as the sender and receiver often with legal implications.
Some social networking sites attract pre-teens even kids as young as 5 or 6. These younger-focused sites don’t allow the same kinds of communication that teens and adults have, but there are still things that parents can do to help young kids socialize safely online. In fact, when it comes to young kids, the law provides some protections – and gives parents some control over the type of information that children can disclose online. For sites directed to children under age 13, and for general audience sites that know they’re dealing with kids younger than 13, there’s the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). It requires these sites to get parental consent before they collect, maintain, or use kids’ information. COPPA also allows parents to review their child’s online profiles and blog pages.
Teens chose to go where their friends are. So they don’t randomly select their friends, they connect with people who are like them. This is known as “homophily” in the sociological concept of which highlights that “birds of a feather stick together.” By the time most teens join MySpace or Facebook, they already know someone who is on the site. They are attracted to the site because of the people there.
MySpace came out as the first and quickly attracted young adults. It spread to teenagers through older. Facebook started at Harvard and spread with in before spreading more broadly. First within Harvard, then to other colleges, then to companies, then high schools, and then the whole world. MySpace came first and many teens chose to embrace it. When Facebook came along, plenty of teens changed to it as the “new thing.” In doing so, some chose to leave MySpace, while most simply maintained two profiles. Yet Facebook did not simply take over MySpace. In May 2009 comScore reported that MySpace and Facebook had roughly equal numbers of unique visitors.
In choosing between the two sites, teens marked one as for “people like me,” which suggested that the other was for the “other” people. Teens use social categories and labels to identify people with values, tastes, and social positions. As teens chose between MySpace and Facebook, these sites began reflecting the cultural frames of those social categories.
Health & Safety Issues
Health and safety on the internet applies to the mental health of an individual rather than the physical. For example the use of social networking site Facebook is associated with issues of cyber bullying and peer pressure.
Teen Users of social networks
1. Be careful – Think twice before publishing personal data (specifically name, address, or telephone number) in a social network profile.
2. Think twice before using your real name in a profile. – Use a pseudonym instead. Note that even then you have only limited control over who can identify you, as third parties may be able to lift a pseudonym, especially based on pictures. Think of using different pseudonyms on different platforms.
3. Respect the privacy of others – Be especially careful with publishing personal information about others (including pictures or even tagged pictures), without that other person’s consent. Note that illegal publication especially of pictures is a crime in many jurisdictions.
4. Be informed – Who operates the service? Under which jurisdiction? Is there an adequate regulatory framework for protecting privacy? Is there an independent oversight mechanism (like a Privacy Commissioner) that you can turn to in case of problems? Which guarantees does the service provider give with respect to handling your personal data? Has the service been certified by independent and trustworthy entities for good quality of privacy, and security? Use the web to educate yourself about other people’s experience with the privacy and security practices of a service provider you do not know. Use existing information material from providers of social network services, but also from independent sources like Data Protection Agencies, and security companies.
5. Use privacy friendly settings – Restrict availability of information as much as possible, especially with respect to indexing by search engines.
6. Use different identification data – (e.g. login and password) than those you use on other websites you visit (e.g. for your e-mail or bank account).
7. Use opportunities to control – how a service provider uses your personal (profile and traffic) data. E.g. opt out of use for targeted marketing.
What parents can do –
Learn what your teen is doing on the Internet. One way is to ask your teen to help you with doing a task on the web.
Help teens know what is appropriate to put on the web. They have the web knowledge but you have life experience.
Be clear about what is not safe to post on the web: full name, address, specific places they go, phone numbers, ethnic background, and anything else that would help someone identify or locate them. Remind your teen that strangers and people they don’t want accessing their information have the ability to do just that. Once something is posted on the web, it is no longer private.
Stress that the rules of social networking sites must be followed. There are age limits on most sites.
Establish limits on how much “screen time” your teen has including time at the computer, watching TV, or playing video games.
Invite your teen to show you his/her web page. Give him/her a day or two of warning before looking at it. Some teens may “rethink” what they have posted.
Consider joining the same website your teen is on and setting up your own profile. That way your teen will be able to look at your profile and you will be able to ask to view his/her profile. Knowing this, teens will be much better at self – monitoring.
â€¢ Bullying and other threats which young users inflict upon each other may be more likely to arise than threats from adults.
â€¢ Much is known about potential risks, but more research on the nature and extent of harm actually experienced by minors online is needed.
â€¢ Parental involvement in their children’s online activity is important, but principles of privacy and trust should dictate how parents help children to stay safe.
â€¢ Education and awareness are the most important factors in enabling minors to keep themselves safe.
â€¢ Industry self-regulation is the preferred approach for service providers to meet public expectations with regard to the safety of minors. Legislation should not place burdens on service providers which prevent them from providing minors with all the benefits of social networking. However, available safety measures vary greatly from one provider to another and mandatory minimum levels of provision may need to be established.
â€¢ There are a number of resources for learning how to guide youth, and program leaders can direct parents to them. One Internet watchdog, Parry Aftab, has several websites with advice tailored for parents, police and the youth themselves. One of them, WiredSafety, contains a guide to staying safe in online social networks.
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