Social Networking
Video introduction to ProCon.org and the pros and cons of controversial topics
Last updated on: 4/13/2011 12:19:00 PM PST

Are Social Networking Sites Good for Our Society?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

Martin Baily, PhD, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, stated the following in a Feb. 15, 2008 entry titled "Is MySpace Good for Society? A Freakonomics Quorum," from the "Freakonomics" blog hosted by the New York Times:
"Powerful new technologies provide great benefits, but they also change the way we live, and not always in ways that everyone likes. An example is the spread of air conditioning, which makes us more comfortable, but those who grew up before its invention speak fondly of a time when everyone sat on the front porch and talked to their neighbors rather than going indoors to stay cool and watch TV. The declining cost of information processing and communication represents a powerful new technology, with social networking as the most recent service to be provided at modest cost. It can be expected to bring pluses and minuses...

But will social networking sites really improve the quality of people's lives? The pluses include easier contacts with friends, and increased chances to make new friends and create a community, as well as find romantic relationships. Even the advertising may be a plus, because it is targeted to the particular interests of the user.

The minuses are that all of this sharing can be dangerous, through gossip and potential abuse of the services. Examples include reported suicides linked to malicious gossip circulated on a social network. Some people become addicted to life on the computer screen, and withdraw from personal contact — it's a long way from people sitting on the porch talking to friends and neighbors...

I am by inclination a technology optimist, believing that the bad things will be filtered out over time and net benefits will emerge. But in the early stages of any new technology, the buyer must beware."


Feb. 15, 2008 - Martin Baily, PhD 

David DiSalvo, freelance writer for Scientific American Mind, stated the following in his Jan./Feb. 2010 article titled "Are Social Networks Messing with Your Head?," published in Scientific American Mind:
"These days people toss around the term 'addiction' as casually as they would a Frisbee. But whatever you call an unhealthy attachment, people are spending ever more time on social networks, and some are getting into trouble over it. For context, Nielson Online reports that the 70 million Facebook members in the US spent 233 million hours on the site in April 2009, up from 28 million hours by 23 million members the previous April -- a 175 percent increase in per capita usage. And according to a study by Nucleus Research in Boston, the most avid users are spending two hours a day on the site while they are at work -- helping to cost companies whose employees can access Facebook 1.5 percent of total office productivity...

Most people will not imperil their psyches if they spend a little more time on social-networking sites. For them, two hours a day on Facebook may simply mean two hours less in front of the TV. But for people who bring a compulsive personality to the keyboard, those hours can grow rapidly, setting off a cascade of bad consequences at home and work... In the US, the group at risk is pretty big: one in 50 adults has some degree of obsessive-compulsive disorder."


Jan./Feb. 2010 - David DiSalvo 

Are Social Networking Sites Good for Our Society?

PRO (yes) CON (no)
Nicole Ellison, PhD, Assistant Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media at Michigan State University, stated the following in a Feb. 15, 2008 entry titled "Is MySpace Good for Society? A Freakonomics Quorum," from the Freakonomics blog hosted by the New York Times:
"I believe the benefits provided by social network sites such as Facebook have made us better off as a society and as individuals, and that, as they continue to be adopted by more diverse populations, we will see an increase in their utility. Anecdotal evidence of positive outcomes from these technologies -- such as political activities organized via Facebook or jobs found through LinkedIn -- is well-known, but now a growing corpus of academic research on social networks sites supports this view as well...

Social technologies never have predictable and absolute positive or negative effects, which is why social scientists dread questions like these. In considering the effects of social network sites, it is clear that there are many challenges to work through -- the increasing commercialization of this space, the need to construct strong privacy protections for users, and safety issues -- but I believe the benefits we receive as a society provided by these tools far outweigh the risks."


Feb. 15, 2008 - Nicole Ellison, PhD 

Brendesha M. Tynes, PhD, Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, stated the following in her Nov. 2007 article titled "Internet Safety Gone Wild?," published in the Journal of Adolescent Research:
"Online social networking can facilitate identity exploration, provide social cognitive skills such as perspective taking, and fulfill the need for social support, intimacy, and autonomy. Whether constructing their profiles in MySpace, creating a video and posting it on YouTube, or talking in chat rooms, teens are constantly creating, recreating, and honing their identities -- a primary goal of adolescent development. This requires constant reflection on who they are, on who they want to become, and on their values, strengths, and weaknesses.

As teens prepare to enter the adult social world, online social environments provide training wheels, allowing young people to practice interaction with others in the safety of their homes."

Nov. 2007 - Brendesha M. Tynes, PhD 

Christine Greenhow, EdD, Educational Researcher and Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Minnesota, stated the following about her research in a July 10, 2008 news release titled "Educational Benefits of Social Networking Sites," posted on the University of Minnesota website:
"What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st century skills we want them to develop to be successful today. Students are developing a positive attitude towards using technology systems, editing and customizing content and thinking about online design and layout. They're also sharing creative original work like poetry and film and practicing safe and responsible use of information and technology. The Web sites offer tremendous educational potential."

July 10, 2008 - Christine Greenhow, EdD 

Michael Marshall, MSc, Writer and Online Editorial Assistant for the New Scientist, stated the following in his Mar. 6, 2009 article titled "Why Facebook Is Good for You," published in the New Scientist:
"Using the internet and social networking sites actually appears to reduce loneliness and improve well-being, as was reported as long ago as 2002 in the Journal of Social Issues. People who have difficulties with conventional socialising, such as those with Asperger's syndrome, experience great benefits. As for social networking sites being a poor alternative to real-world socialising, surveys reported at a conference in 2006 indicate that Facebook users mostly use it to maintain relationships with people they meet offline."

Mar. 6, 2009 - Michael Marshall, MSc 

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) stated the following in their July 2007 study titled "Creating & Connecting: Research and Guidelines on Online Social - and Educational - Networking," posted on nsba.org:
"Almost 60 percent of students who use social networking talk about education topics online and, surprisingly, more than 50 percent talk specifically about schoolwork...

With words, music, photos and videos, students are expressing themselves by creating, manipulating and sharing content online...

Only a minority of students has had any kind of negative experience with social networking in the last three months; even fewer parents report that their children have had a negative experience over a longer, six-month period."


July 2007 - National School Boards Association (NSBA) 

Ben Parr, Co-Editor of Mashable, stated the following in his Jan. 20, 2010 article titled "Social Media's True Impact on Haiti, China, and the World," posted on Mashable.com:
"With the Iranian government clamping down on information and enforcing censorship [during protests of the Iranian presidential election in June 2009], Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube became the primary mediums for bringing information out of the conflicted nation and spreading notes between dissidents... Twitter's role was so important in fact that the US government got involved in scheduling Twitter's downtime...

After a magnitude 7.0 earthquake (and multiple aftershocks) devastated the nation of Haiti [on Jan. 12, 2010], social media became the medium in which everybody spread the word. Dramatic Haiti earthquake Twitter pictures swept across the web, while tech giants mobilized. The most impressive part of social media's impact on Haiti has to be the charity text message campaign that has already raised more than $10 million for Haiti victim relief. Social media spread the word, technology made it possible...

Real-time communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook have spread the word about what's happening within these nations, long before the mainstream media prints the story. These tools have also created a level awareness we've never seen before."


Jan. 20, 2010 - Ben Parr 

Tom Hodgkinson, writer for the Guardian, stated the following in his Jan. 14, 2008 article titled "With Friends Like These...," published in the Guardian:
"I despise Facebook. This enormously successful American business describes itself as 'a social utility that connects you with the people around you'. But hang on. Why on God's earth would I need a computer to connect with the people around me? Why should my relationships be mediated through the imagination of a bunch of supergeeks in California? What was wrong with the pub?

And does Facebook really connect people? Doesn't it rather disconnect us, since instead of doing something enjoyable such as talking and eating and dancing and drinking with my friends, I am merely sending them little ungrammatical notes and amusing photos in cyberspace, while chained to my desk?...

Clearly, Facebook is another uber-capitalist experiment: can you make money out of friendship? Can you create communities free of national boundaries -- and then sell Coca-Cola to them? Facebook is profoundly uncreative. It makes nothing at all. It simply mediates in relationships that were happening anyway."


Jan. 14, 2008 - Tom Hodgkinson 

Susan Greenfield, DPhil, Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Oxford, stated the following in her Feb. 12, 2009 speech to the UK House of Lords:
"Social networking sites might tap into the basic brain systems for delivering pleasurable experience. However, these experiences are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity."

Feb. 12, 2009 - Susan Greenfield, DPhil 

Himanshu Tyagi, MRCPsych, MBBS, Specialist Registrar in Psychotherapy at the Springfield University Hospital in London, UK, stated the following in an address to the Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, as quoted in a July 3, 2008 press release from the Royal College of Psychiatrists:
"It's a world where everything moves fast and changes all the time, where relationships are quickly disposed at the click of a mouse, where you can delete your profile if you don't like it and swap an unacceptable identity in the blink of an eye for one that is more acceptable. People used to the quick pace of online social networking may soon find the real world boring and unstimulating, potentially leading to more extreme behaviour to get that sense.

It may be possible that young people who have no experience of a world without online societies put less value on their real world identities and can therefore be at risk in their real lives, perhaps more vulnerable to impulsive behaviour or even suicide."


July 3, 2008 - Himanshu Tyagi, MRCPsych, MBBS 

Sophos, a company that develops and sells computer security programs, stated the following in its Feb. 1, 2010 white paper titled "Security Threat Report: 2010," posted on sophos.com:
"Although productivity continues to be the dominant reason for companies to block social networks (a third of companies say this is the reason they block Facebook), there has been a dramatic rise since April 2009 in the number of businesses who believe malware [malicious software] is their primary security concern with such sites.

It seems these malware concerns are well justified, with a 70% rise in the proportion of firms that report encountering spam and malware attacks via social networks during 2009. More than half of all companies surveyed said they had received spam via social networking sites, and over a third said they had received malware.

Furthermore, over 72% of firms believe that employees' behavior on social networking sites could endanger their business's security. This has increased from 66% in the previous study."


Feb. 1, 2010 - Sophos 

Michael Bugeja, PhD, Director of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, stated the following in an online debate on social networking conducted Jan. 15-25, 2008 and sponsored by The Economist:
"Facebook or MySpace are programmed for revenue generation, especially the vending of marketing data and the advertising base that can be established because of that data. To do so, those networks rely on technology developed by military (to surveil) and industry (to sell). The fact that both happen simultaneously is no fluke because the programming is designed to amass psychographics on users too busy depicting each other like products to notice the surveillance...

To rebut examples of proactive use of social networks, I could counter with tragic ones, including a recent hoax by an adult 'neighbour' that triggered the suicide of 13-year-old Megan Meier."


Jan. 15-25, 2008 - Michael Bugeja, PhD 

Christopher Wolf, JD, former Chair of the International Network Against Cyber-Hate (INACH), stated the following in his opening remarks at the Nov. 8, 2007 Berlin meeting of INACH:
"On MySpace, as well as on the social networking site Facebook.com, there are hundreds of groups featuring the words 'Hitler' or 'Nazi,' many established to promote neo-Nazism and other anti-Semitic feelings...

In the Internet era, it appears there are more people interested in spewing hate than in countering it. On the social networking sites and on YouTube, inflammatory, hate-filled content overwhelms the limited efforts to promote tolerance and to teach diversity. And, as we have seen, hate speech inspires violence."


Nov. 8, 2007 - Christopher Wolf, JD 

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