“ Whether you are a music fan, a research scientist, looking for a hot date or an old school friend there is a social networking site out there to cater to your needs, indeed without a myspace or a facebook page can we be certain we exist at all? „
As a young adult born in the last 20 years, my adolescence coincided with the .com boom, especially pertaining to social networking websites. As you can imagine, as a 13 year old I was attracted to these sites like moths to a particularly shiny flame. This write-up will primarily focus on my experiences from a young teen to an older one.
My experiences of Myspace, Bebo, Facebook, et cetera et cetera are varied: lots of unnecessary drama and pettiness, not to mention horrifically mangled sp3ll1ng + gramers. Mostly, it was just to fill the void after homework, a way to chat to classmates and friends, and also - I will admit this - to look at what other people were doing. This is especially pertinent to young, and I hesitate to enunciate myself in the nicest possible way, judgmental teenage girls. In the 90s, "Mean Girls" had its "Burn Book"; modern day girls have their enemies friended on Facebook and giggle over them on private messaging. Cruel? Yes. A normal part of learning to relate to your peers? I believe so.
I have had some admittedly nasty experiences online, especially as a female. Now, I know what you're thinking, the Internet is a gender neutral place, but as many gamers and chat room frequenters know, that is not quite the case. The fact is the Internet seems to make some normal, well-adjusted people turn their scumbag filters off and become a Frankenstein's monster of nastiness. As a 14 year old I was accosted several times by a stranger, an older teenage boy, who kept pestering me to expose myself in pictures to him. After turning him down, he said, bizarrely, "it was just a test" and kept pestering me and telling me what his friends thought of me (as you can imagine, much of it was less than complimentary). Of course, I blocked him, but still knowing that someone would treat me like some kind of pez dispenser of sex was hurtful. Especially, like many young teenage girls, I had low self esteem and worried about my body image. I ended up leaving the site, and I think that was for the best.
Another facet of social networking is outright bullying as opposed to "stranger danger" I outlined above. I watched an American made-for-TV movie called "Cyberbu//y" (a cipher for cyber bully) where a girl is - you guessed it - bullied via a knock-off Facebook. The victim eventually tries to kill herself and some law is passed that makes the Internet illegal. It was a very low budget and frankly misguided movie, but it drummed up a lot of backlash from American mothers and PTA groups who were suddenly made of aware of what their children were doing online.
I was a victim of bullying in high school, some of it online, but after watching "Cyberbu//y" I just felt distaste. The Internet is a wonderful source of information and connectivity, but it is also a choice, to be online or offline - to sit and read what people say about you or to turn off the computer and go outside. Yes - many things said to or about me have been hurtful, but that, yet again, is another part of growing up. There will always be people who dislike you or me for some reason or other, and learning to deal with them is important. Many social networking sites implement blocking or report features that means abuse can be handled. But more than that - the choice is always there to click off. Many teenagers are addicted to attention, even negative attention (or "drama"), and to be able to make yourself look away is an important lesson, not only in handling other people, but handling yourself.
Thirdly, and I think this is most important, privacy is often easily (and voluntarily) given up when a teenager thinks they have an audience. There are many young women and girls on Facebook posting suggestive pictures of themselves for attention, or other forms of dangerous exhibitionism, such as self-harm, eating disorders and suicide. I have seen the latter over and over again, and it is incredibly troubling, especially when beyond the computer the person's demeanor is completely normal. There is definitely a trend for glamorizing mental illness, and this is a horrible, but not unforeseen, side-effect of it.
On a more rational note, I am sure everyone reading this is aware that employers are more and more often looking up potential and current employees online and seeing what they are "really" like. No employer appreciates a drunk, or someone who slags off who they work for. One of my own Facebook friends, my cousin, in fact, is like this, and I do quietly wonder how long she will keep her job for, at least without being admonished for her behaviour.
Despite the negative points outlined above, my experiences online have led me towards who I am today, and have created an arena for my interests, hobbies and friendships to thrive. While I agree tougher policing of bullying and sexual misconduct online should be enforced, it begins at home. While I do think passport verification and a minimum age limit (actually, many sites have those already, but the widespread use of it in a more general way) would decrease the amount of mindless vitriol spewed by so many a so-called "troll", ultimately it is just another form of censorship and monitoring in the name of mollycoddling (or, Won't Somebody Think of the Children?).
My advice to parents is to instill within your child the confidence to handle any situation, on or offline, and the moral backbone to not belittle others, post inappropriate material or engage in harmful behaviours. This can be achieved by talking to them, openly, and if necessary, monitoring their usage of such sites (though I don't agree with spying on your kids - just looking over their shoulder every so often to make sure they're not into anything inappropriate, or saying they can only use the Internet at certain times of day and only when other family members are present, I agree with). And for the parents of young girls, especially, let them know they are intelligent, beautiful, charming and most of all loved - NOT that they need to look for affirmation of this from posting pictures of themselves or interacting with strangers.
The Internet is more than just pornography, spam and timeline updates of your relatives' babies - it is an interactive universe of information that can enrich and be enjoyed, from music to new friends, and it is for everyone. Encourage exploration and personal growth - but also encourage responsibility, the right to feel safe and happy, and the courage to block an abuser, report abuse or leave an abusive site.
As a society, we often sacrifice the potential of a personal to mature and learn life lessons because of concerns for their safety, and I am afraid what we could be left with is a generation of young people who neither handle criticism, manage to keep their private and public life separate, or engage with others in a meaningful way without some kind of safety net. I think using a social network teaches many important lessons that apply to interacting with people in "real life" - be polite, keep private things private, and never be afraid to report abuse.
Should social networks introduce a minimum age and passport verification?
I was close-minded in 2003, in regards to the importance of marketing products to teenagers, until read; 'Branded' by Quart. A fascinating insight into the consumerism mind of 'kidults' - where teen-agents were hired and worked as trend-setters for huge brands - and by the time they're seventeen they're, past-it - Deemed as being too old to knowing what would appeal to a ten year old. Consumerism forced adulthood onto them, just because they were so marketable, and surprisingly 'brand loyal' - Facebook is no different. Several years ago, Zuckerberg swayed towards getting 10 - 12 year olds into the idea of learning online and in doing so, approached 'app designers' to use the FB platform to help the youngsters hooked onto 'apps', in a bid to get their 'brand loyalty.' It worked, and he developed personal tutorials so to not miss out of an opportunity in capturing this malleable market - Bowing his head to the shareholder, who claimed the social network future rested with youngsters, kidults, young programmers, whiz-kids, and young gamers. This tact was timely synchronised with the emergence of smart-phones being part of a youngster's lifestyle - the potential revenue was vast. Zuckerberg has only gone half-way into this lucrative malleable market and the reason for this is, 'safety' - the platform programmers have devised many interface alternatives, although have fallen short on the safety issue. The concept brief infiltrates child / graphic user-friendliness with a strong parent / guardian participation e.g. "Can I say Hi to Mummy please?" bubble prompts; provides a 'Mother, Father, Child' platform that safeguards the future generations' well-being - inadvertently this makes the child interact with parent while using Facebook. Prototypes so far have failed the security test, which is an occupation hazard of having close to a billion interactive users, rogue hackers incessantly trying to hijack control of the social network server - hardly, a crèche is it! A secure online environment is paramount, for a minor to engage in the interactive world fully.
'The Green Cross Code to social networking' should be on the school curriculum. For example: what is appropriate to write and not - who to trust and not - and role playing scenarios. The online learning program should starting during the penultimate year of primary school and sporadically for a couple of years thereafter as an informed top-up in secondary school - Partly due to the changing world of social networking. If a stranger offered you sweets, run like the wind. If a stranger gives you a tweet, they're not a friend. A passport verification (PPV) package wouldn't solve underage memberships either; instead, it'll potentially create vile data misuses, if the server is successfully hacked into. 'PPV 'is designed to embed deeper into our liberties, it is obsolete as a valid security measure, because the details are stored on a server. 'PPV' is profoundly user-unfriendly due to it being overly case sensitive for the wrong reason (s). Once verification has been verified, the act is another nail into the wooden panel of our soul. The 'PPV' details are out there in the red-light district of cyberspace ready to be picked up by a Federal data Server, or raped by North Korean cyber-gangs - cloned, used and abused. Not exactly: 'online baking with Mother. If you're *appy* and you know it, click your hands!' When your identity is, verified, denied, and then verified.. accepted...' the act itself is more complex than just simply having a social network meander, regardless of age or gender - before too long the social network 'big brother' will be our adopted nanny-state and we'll be asking ourselves - how did this happen? Thankfully, the analogy is hyperbole. To keep our neurosis balanced, we must believe the social media privacy laws and 'COPPA' are designed to protect us and our loved ones; however, 'COPPA' must evolve sufficiently with the likes of Facebook, Twitter etc, for it to be efficient - So that liberties aren't compromised and fun is retained.
Did you know that The Flintstones were the first American couple to be seen in bed together on TV, or that up to 50% of attractive profiles on dating sites are fake. Censorship is impossible in the internet age, morality all but absent from the puritan days of the 1950s. You can be who you want to be online, and that includes your social networking persona, the real me nothing like the one I present through my online thumbprint. But you just can't have the use of these innovative and clever social network sites for nothing as there is always a price to pay. The saying goes that if you can join an internet service or website for free then you are the product, advertisers probing your privacy what the social networking model is really about. People who moan about a behemoth like Facebook wanting your habits and secrets to sell and encourage advertising are those same idiots who think you get something for nothing in life. What else would Facebook be for? For example, if you take medication for an undeclared condition or have a criminal record and you have blabbed it on Facebook you can bet your life that your current insurance brokers will find about it through data mining and up goes your premium, whether its true or not.
When it comes to Facebook and employment it's me who tends to exploit the employer. If you have an interview confirmed with a company and you want to get the edge then Facebook is a very useful tool. Tap in the companies name and then look the 'Friends' bit to see if the person who sent you the email' is there and then a bit of anonymous skullduggery to get them to add you and away you go! Normally it's they, or the boss, who will interview you. If not then tap in the sender's personal email to the Facebook search engine and you may get their account that way. This is also a useful ploy if your current boss is doing your head in or Human Resources are thinking about constructive dismissal, dirt gathered this way always helpful to have in your corner. Infomatation is power. I remember getting one job purely on knowing the boss was a Portsmouth fan from his Facebook page and going from there in the interview.
Most of the time people are not so much employed on their experience or skills or what's ranted on Facebook but their appearance, social class and likeability. Like any relationship, people like people they have things in common with. First impressions are everything and they will often employ people with lesser experience or skills because they are more attractive or personable than the superior academic applicants, decisions made in as little as the first 30 seconds of the interview if they feel you are one of them, or not, as the case may be. Do single male bosses entertain the idea that I may want to bonk my new secretary one day and so may as well employ a cute one, a peep at their Facebook page to see them in a bikini a must? They also use barcode scanners now to thin the pile of CVs down quickly and so no real need for HR to log on to Facebook to thin it some more. Your CV post-code, not you outrageous political views, will decide your fete first.
Peeing on employees
As far as companies checking on employees lifestyles and practices through social networks go I suspect it does go on but not that decisive or widespread. I think most employers expect their staff to slag off their bosses and companies at some point and get drunk too much after work and so will let those picture and threads go. And top end employers who maybe acting detrimental to their company by passing information to the enemy are hardly likely to do it on Facebook. The really smart ones (or bloody creeps) will only say gushing things on their Facebook timeline about work if they suspect their boss is reading it. I don't think the peeping is that a bigger issue unless they are looking for a reason to sack you, racist or homophobic comments on your timeline reason enough. If they don't want to fire you and you are doing a good job then they won't care what you say online. But hey, you could always print of your bosses similar comments on their timeline!
What's more worrying is the power being acquired by employers and people like the DHSS to probe your emails and correspondence. If a company you work for - directly or indirectly - suspects you are conspiring with another employer that's detrimental to their business they can legally probe your emails. If the dole suspects you are not actually applying for jobs you said you went for they can legally ask the employer to send a transcript of your email as proof, a disturbing development as one or two of these incidents could force a 13 week sanction without money or the sack from your job for whatever reason. This employer probing is happening more and more and rarely challenged in court, many governments using post 91l terrorism acts and rules to implement sweeping surveillance laws that are somewhat detrimental to their citizens. If a CCTV camera is allowed to issue a parking ticket without the driver even knowing he or she was in a restricted area than you have to question what the new laws are really all about. My worry is this information is being gathered by governments to sell to big business. Is it not the case that cowboy clampers could by your car registration details from Swansea DVLC for a tenner to chase up that unreasonable and often illegal cash demand?
Social networking is an excellent way to keep in touch with people rather than spending money on letters and phone bills to talk to that person. You can also become part of a social network for free! If it's one you have to pay - Don't use it!
Also to use social networking sites such as facebook you have to be at least 13 years old to use it, so when you reach your 13th you can apply to an account on facebook!
The most common social networking sites are Facebook and Myspace. But as of today Facebook is more common than Myspace.
Even though social networking sites may be an excellent thing to have but there is one problem though especially if you are a teenager, cause this can cause cyber-bullying and making hurtful comments, but now they have introduced a stop button so there is someone who is bullying you over the internet then they can track down that person who is bullying the victim.
Do remember that people on internet may not be who they say (due to 21st century tech and it improves every year) so do be careful who you talk to and if they ask you to meet up, meet in a public area and take a friend with you to be on the safe side. and DO NOT give out personal details like address, phone number, e-mail.
Overall, I do think social networking is great but it can be dangerous for teenagers. But I will say that it is a lot easier to get in contact with people.
Social Networking Sites have really taken off over the last few years. I have been a member of Myspace, Bebo and Facebook. I think I missed the Faceparty train, but soon caught up when I discovered Myspace (my first social networking site). I have grown to despise these kind of communities, particularly following on from the media storms over the girl who was murdered recently after meeting someone on facebook. I hope you enjoy my review, I am not looking to change your opinion, I am just detailing mine.
There are many different communities online which can be classed as social networking sites. There are small sites, my Mam used to be part of a pet community, who shared stories along with hints and tips on pet care / ownership. Additionally she ran a fanclub site for a band she liked. There are Myspace, Bebo and Facebook which are age restricted (normally about 13 / 14 minimum age), high profile and serve millions of users across the world and then there are adult / dating sites.
All Social Networking Sites follow a similar format. There is a requirement to register your details, usually including address / locality, along with full name, date of birth etc. Then you might need to create a user name and finally a profile - this can include information about you, photo's, hobbies and other information you would like to share. Obviously specific sites, like dating sites, need you to add 'what you are looking for' or pet sites might ask you to add 'your pets names'. You will then have a home page, which can usually be accessed via a URL, or by you adding other users as 'friends' or 'trusted', they will then be able to view your page. Some sites like Facebook have add ons, including games and quizzes.
On some sites, Myspace most notoriously, you can customise your page. If you don't know anything about HTML then don't worry, because there are so many websites which will help you design your own page, you don't need to have a clue! On my old Myspace, I used to have an animated opening flower and the petals would fall off to form the letters of my name, I used to have a song playing in the background and some scrolling image galleries. It looked almost like a professionally designed website!
You can add friends you know, or friends of friends you know. On Facebook, I started off by adding my sister, my partner, my best friend, and then I looked through their friends and knew people so added them, and then people looked through their lists and saw me and added me - there is also a people you may know section - which through mutual association suggests people on the network who you may know and if you do you can add them as a friend - I had around 700 friends on my facebook, all of whom I knew. I never added anyone I didn't know. You can search by company, school, town, etc. So you can usually find some blasts from the past on there!
You can normally choose to block people you don't want to see your profile or be able to message you. You can also set your privacy settings so people cant search for you, or that only people who are friends with your friends can see you in search lists. You can set your protection as high or as low as you like.
You can upload up to a certain limit albums of photos. You can then choose to share these with friends and family. Great for my family as my sister just had a baby and some of our family emigrated to Australia a couple of years ago - so they still get to see him grow up.
So far, so good. A great way to keep in touch with friends and family and share your photos, about me information, creative flair in customising your page and to waste the days away when your bored, you can log on, chat and swap pictures. Fantastic...
Not always. There are so many downsides, which people just don't seem to be able to see. There is nothing safe about an online community no matter how many privacy settings a provider puts in place.
You could be 8 to set up a profile even though it restricts you on age to be a minimum of 13 (as an example). You just put a different date of birth in, make yourself a couple of years older and your on - susceptible to disgusting paedophiles and evil people just waiting to groom you. I don't think anyone, regardless of age has any idea about the dangers apparent online on Social Networking Sites. But children should simply not be allowed on them. If they want to talk to people from school, why not have schools set up networking sites, you only get a personal log in by asking at the school and there are external moderators from Ofsted or something who moderate them (just incase the teachers are paedophiles - I trust no one at all these days, particularly after the Little Ted's incident in Plymouth). Or spend some of the millions and billions these sites are worth on doing a voters roll check for age validation. This would prevent people who have no fixed abode and subsequently go missing after they have murdered someone they met on a networking site from being untraceable and unnamed.
There is no validation of your identity on the site in addition to you being able to put any age on. I could go on there now and create a profile which emulated any one of my friends, I could then use this information to trick another friend in to believing I was them. No doubt about it. I had an experience of this - a person, who I haven't identified pretended to be a person I knew very distantly who added me as a friend - and I accepted as I did know her to speak with; stole her identity and caused a lot of trouble by claiming to be having an affair with my partner - which proved untrue and which led to me shutting down my profile. There is no way to combat this - other than verbally confirming people are who they say they are - I had an argument with a work colleague about this and he said, well I wouldn't add anyone I don't know well. But there is nothing stopping someone, particularly highly inventive predators, emulating a child's friend on there and luring them to go meet for the cinema. It sends shudders through me.
This doesn't just happen to school kids. I know a girl who is about 30 and she dyed her hair red a few months ago; next thing comments were littering facebook saying 'X... would hate to be such a loser I needed to copy Cheryl Cole', 'X... hates Cheryl Cole Wannabes', 'X...thinks that a certain person should get her own personality or style, or is that too much trouble?'. These comments would really hurt me, luckily I think the girl who this concerned is pretty relaxed and nonchalant. I have also seen specific groups formed, 'Join this Group if you hate X'. Its vulgar and its verbal and mental bullying in it's worst form. It just drove me crazy seeing things on there and this also led to me leaving the sites (Myspace and Facebook).
I would not want any child of mine, regardless of whether they were 12, 18 or 40 doing a quiz and publicising the results about 'What type of Sexual Deviant are you?', or 'What type of Drug are you?', or 'How many people have you bedded?'. These are all quizzes I have seen people (including minors) take and publicly announce their results on their profile.
Never ever forget that colleagues, managers and potenital employers can see your profile - they will find a way, even if it is through someone you know who works there. That would be nice, a 'friend' tagging you in a picture where you are in a state drunk, and then your potential employer bypassing you for your dream job after seeing it.
If you go to meet someone that you have met online, then take some friends with you, never go alone - and always tell plenty of people where you are going. Only agree to meet in a place where there are loads of people and make sure you do this until you trust the person. Even then I still don't think this is always safe. My Mam met her boyfriend of 8 years on the net, she used to meet up with him so they both had some company to walk their dogs. He is a brilliant person who I care about a lot - so it isn't always terrible. But you must be safe! Do not take any risks whatsoever.
I think that Social Networking Sites in general should be labelled Social Suicide Sites instead if I am honest. You get drawn in to sharing too much of your life with everyone to the extent where you could lose a job and good friends or family through it. It causes issues and jealousy in relationships. I am no prude, I am laid back and relaxed, very open with my own parents as you will know from my other discussions. But after the Vanessa George case and the case of the girl murdered just near my home town, I have wound myself in a little bit. These are dangerous places - I don't know how to regulate them, or prevent terrible things like this happening, because the privacy settings don't do it - but something needs to change before I begin to use the good bits again, like the sharing pictures and funny stories with friends and family.