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How Has Social Networking Affected Society Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2747 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The internet has revolutionized the way in which people communicate. The proliferation of this medium of communication and data transfer has made it difficult to believe that only a few decades back, people had to wait for days and sometimes weeks for a letter to reach them. Today communication is a very quick process and it is the internet that has made it possible. The latest byproduct of the internet is what is called social networking. There are numerous websites like Orkut, Facebook and MySpace that are used by individuals to find their friends and stay in contact with them. It is impossible to ignore the impact that social networking has had on human society. This paper will study the different ways by which social networking sites have influenced society. The positive and negative effects of this cyber phenomenon will also be delved upon.

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The popularity of the internet among the masses was made possible mainly due to email. People could send emails to any part of the world and could receive emails instantaneously. Subsequently there were websites that integrated audio and visual elements to make internet browsing a user friendly experience. Today, handheld devices utilize the internet for various purposes. This means that the internet and related applications can be made available to any person who knows how to use a compatible handheld device. For many people the internet has become an absolute necessity that they cannot do without in their daily lives. Even though in the beginning internet services were utilized by commercial establishments to further their business interests, technologically inclined entrepreneurs brought together Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), photo sharing, instant messaging, ecommerce, multiplayer gaming and so on and created websites that were aimed at bringing people together (Ishak, n.d).

This initiative led to the growth of the social networking revolution. People found out that they could use the internet to connect with other people. It was also possible to rekindle old relationships and stay in touch with long lost relatives or those who were living in other countries. Social networking sites today are the most highly valued internet companies. This is because almost anyone who uses the internet is a member on at least one of these sites. Some may also have memberships in various social networking sites like Orkut, Facebook and MySpace. This widespread adoption of social networking sites has definitely impacted the way human beings socialize. There are hundreds of social networking sites today that connect people across the world. Some target people who have common interests and some do not have any such criteria and are open to all (Ishak, n.d).

‘Online social networks focus on building and reflecting social relationships among people who share interests and/or activities’ (Ishak, n.d). Social networks enable a person to have a profile where he/she is able to include information about him/her and also include friends. Personal experiences are shared by way of messages, photos, videos and other media. A few of the most popular social networking sites that have millions of members are Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Orkut etc. Socializing on the internet was not pioneered by these websites. Email and messengers like ICQ have always enabled people to do so nearly a decade ago. But these websites have made it possible to include a large number of people in groups and stay in touch with them effortlessly (Ishak, n.d).

‘The social web and mobile technologies have accelerated the rate at which relationships develop, information is shared and influence takes hold’ (Benioff, 2012). Social technology is used to shape the events of the world. Websites like Facebook have given a new way to communicate and reach out with the help of groups and friends. Portable devices like tablets and smartphones have applications that help people access their friends regardless of their location. The impact of social media has been seen in people’s movements like the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement. People who are connected to each other with these means have managed to rally crowds and gather an audience that helped them in toppling political regimes (Benioff, 2012).

Social networking has made it easier for people to meet other people. Not all people are outgoing enough to take the initiative and meet others. Conventional opportunities to make friends were during social gatherings when people had an opportunity to meet other people. Since some people are introverts they find it difficult to muster enough courage to meet someone and strike up a conversation. Social networking ensures that everybody has a level playing field. Even people who do not have an impressive personality per se can have hundreds of friends on their profile and also interacts with each other on a daily basis. Not all friends on a social networking profile need to be close friends. Some may be brief acquaintances but in due course of time a relationship could be developed (Parrack, 2012).

People often spend a very long time on social networking sites. This is because of the sharing of experiences that takes place between people. People on a friend’s list tend to listen and respond to messages and even dispel any concerns that are voiced by other friends. Since modern lifestyle does not give people enough time to communicate, communication systems need to be extremely fast. Social networks are very fast and it is possible to send a message and get a reply to that within a matter of seconds. There is also a sense of equality despite the locations that people may be in and hence social networking sites have made the world a much smaller place. It is also possible for people with similar interests to interact. By sharing likes, dislikes, interests, hobbies etc, people tend to move closer to each other despite the physical distance between them (Parrack, 2012).

Every individual will feel the need to maintain certain weak ties. These could be with people whom one meets during the course of the day. Asking for a phone number may not be possible due to the nature of the relationship. Potential benefits of keeping in touch with certain people might be for arranging play dates or discussing a hobby. These are interactions that do not require a very close relationship. Social networking is a very useful tool for such people. Interaction will be possible during that particular time and also in the future when it is necessary. Bonding with friends and family is different from associating oneself with the ‘weak ties’. ‘Social networking sites allow individuals to manage a wider network of weak ties and thus increase bridging social capital’ (Ellison, Lampe, & Steinfield, 2009).

When a person’s social network is improved it will help them to increase the information that is available to them and also to improve the opportunities that they have. In a study that was conducted among undergraduates it was found that merely using the internet did not increase the social capital. Only intensive use of websites like Facebook led to higher levels of social capital. Before the advent of these sites people used communication strategies like newsletters and gossip to discuss about their past and present acquaintances. Social networking sites have enabled status messages and regular updates that enable people to engage in lightweight social surveillance. It is true that most of the status messages are about seemingly trivial matters. A friend may have got a new dog, an old colleague may have changed his job and knowing about these may not make any change in one’s life but it is the awareness of one’s social network that provides a continuous link to the acquaintances (Ellison, Lampe, & Steinfield, 2009).

‘Social networking sites can assist in coordinating and mobilizing social action’ (Ellison, Lampe, & Steinfield, 2009). There are several organizations that have managed to mobilize the society and influenced it. Political figures, organizations and advocacy groups can find supporters very easily with the help of such websites. For any network to have value it needs support from as many numbers of people as possible. Focused networking sites like for instance MyChurch.com unites Christian churches and the website Care2.com unites environmental activists. There is also a social networking site that unites activists called Change.org. This site has been used in the past to organize protests and boycotts in an efficient manner. This has only been made possible due to the number of members who follow such websites and the messages that are posted regularly (Ellison, Lampe, & Steinfield, 2009).

Social networking has also had several adverse effects on the society. According to Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist, a social network not only changes what an individual does but also changes the person that he/she is. People tend to befriend people on Facebook but tend to keep people in their lives at a distance. Today it is possible for a person to tweet a message to a thousand followers at the same time but the same person fails to pick up a telephone which is a much more efficient mode of communication and talk to someone. According to Turkle, “the relationships that are forged in this way offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship” (Strachan, 2012). In other words we are only getting used to a ‘way of being alone together’ (Strachan, 2012).

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Social networking sites have also had an impact on the communication styles that are adopted by people. Writing has become more concise due to micro blogging sites like Twitter. Several abbreviations like LOL for laughing out loud, BRB for be right back, ROTLR for rolling on the floor laughing are being used. This is not considered to be a very good trend by people because it corrupts the English language. Apart from abbreviations words are also shortened as the necessity may be. ‘Before’ becomes ‘b4’, ‘to’ becomes ‘2’and so on. The main problem with this is that it is the younger generation that is using this kind of communication before even becoming proficient with the language. Even if it is assumed that this is only a trend that will pass then those who use this kind of language will face problems when they grow up are expected to use formal English language (Sherman, 2010).

While it is true that social networking sites enable us to organize our real world relationships it also adversely affects a person’s ability to socialize. People nowadays are obsessed about composing a perfect tweet or a good Facebook status update that they forget to enjoy the important events in their lives. For instance in a survey that was conducted about this subject it was revealed that 24% of the respondents missed out on enjoying special moments because they were busy trying to document the occasion for their friends on social networking sites (Laird, 2012). People who are not mature about their real world relationships tend to vent out their relationship woes on social networking sites. This could have a disastrous consequence on their relationship itself (Kaiser, 2012).

Americans in particular have become less participant-oriented. They prefer to remain only as audience members. In the past there used to be a propensity to join sports teams, and civic groups. Today people tend to live an isolated life. Such an existence will only lead to lesser empathy and fewer social skills. People are so used to dealing with people online that they cannot bring themselves to talk with their neighbors. It is the real life social networks that are being destroyed by virtual social networks. In the United States, suburban streets have started to look deserted. People no longer gather to communicate or just have a good time. Children are addicted to their computer screens and video games. ‘Neighbors who might be burning up the social media pages inside their homes barely know each other outside’ (Robinson, 2011).

According to a recent study, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are supposedly more addictive than cigarettes or alcohol. This addiction is due to the fact that checking updates on these sites is neither expensive nor does it have any adverse effects on one’s health. “Desires for media may be comparatively harder to resist because of their high availability and also because it feels like it does not ‘cost much’ to engage in these activities, even though one wants to resist” (Epstein, 2012). However there is a psychological explanation to this addiction. Receiving or answering a notification results in a hit of Dopamine which is a chemical neurotransmitter that is associated with reward responses in the human brain. Dopamine is also released while consuming drugs or indulging in sexual activity. This is why social networking can be addictive (Franceschi-Bicchierai, 2012).

In an online poll that was conducted among a thousand teenagers, it was revealed that four out of five experienced negative side effects when they were not allowed to access their social networking accounts. Sites like Twitter and Facebook made them have negative feelings like depression, insecurity, panic and dependence (Dungan, 2012). Yet another problem that is seen on social networking site is bullying. The internet seems to give people a sense of anonymity that brings out the mean streak in them. According to a research study by the Pew Research Center, where 800 teenagers were surveyed, it was seen that incidents of mean and cruel behavior transcended all ages and backgrounds on social networks.’ (Kang, 2011).

Bullying in schools and colleges is common but the ease of communication on the internet makes it possible for peers to join forces and gang up on an individual. Of those who had seen such cruelty online 21% joined in the harassment. Out of ten girls aged twelve to thirteen, three admitted to having experienced unkind treatment. Teenagers assumed a different personality online that was markedly different from that of their real personality. Some of them approached their online friends with more bravado than they had in real life conversations. Facebook is a website that requires its members to use real names to prevent anonymous bullying. But it has not stopped bullying altogether. The online peer groups become meaner when the child is of a younger age (Kang, 2011).

Social networking encourages people to be more public about their lives. Intimate details of a person’s personal life may be available to other people in the form of posts, status updates, photos and videos. These will stay in the public domain even after the accounts are deleted by the user. It is also possible that someone might have downloaded them to their computers. These can then be altered to malign the reputation of a person. For instance a picture of a person doing shots at a party may look absolutely fine to their friends. But when a prospective employer is doing a background check, the very same photo may land the person in trouble (Jung, 2012). This loss of privacy is a very serious issue that can affect people in a society.

Social networking is a very influential mode of communication. Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace make it possible for member to communicate with ease with their friends and family. It has become easier to enter into relationships with such websites. Hand held devices like tablets and smartphones have applications that enable users to log in to the social network from their devices and stay in touch with their friends. However social networking also has its adverse effects on the society. People have started to get addicted to networking sites. This addiction to updating one’s status on a networking site has made people incapable to engage in real life interactions with people. People are also developing a different identity online that makes then indulge in bullying. Social networking therefore has profound influences on human society that are both beneficial as well as detrimental.


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