Do you tweet? Have a Facebook page? How about MySpace? Chances are if you are lost already then you haven’t heard of these social networking sites and probably don’t plan on it either. For those of you who have answered yes to one or all of these questions then you are social networking regulars and know the ropes already. Social networking can be a great tool for connecting with people from all different walks of life, sharing your thoughts with the world (only 140 characters please), keeping in touch with family members, catching up with old acquaintances or just keeping track of your favorite person(s). There is however a downside to social networking which is becoming more predominant by the day. The tools we use to socially network and communicate with each other is rapidly constructing a world in which we can communicate where we want, when we want and how we want. Those same tools however are also rapidly tearing down our social skills with one another when our electronic means of communication are turned off and we are face to face physically.
The Death of Human Interaction
There are many scenes in which you can find a family at a restaurant, the father checking his BlackBerry for new emails, the mother text messaging her friend and the kids either tweeting their whereabouts or playing games on their phones. Each person on the opposite end of their social networking streams is pleased to connect with their friend at anytime, meanwhile the passerby observes a family all sitting at the table with their heads buried in their gadgets with no conversation or eye contact. I can say with assurance that you have either been a part of this scene or have observed this exact scene at some point in time. What happened to times when family would go out on a Friday night and spend time talking about their week, or what they did at school, or what their plans were for the weekend? With the ever increasing availability of social networking tools in the palm of your hand, face to face human interaction is quickly becoming a thing of the past.
The media plays a major role in promoting the death of in person human interaction as well. There are commercials for phone plans that include unlimited text messaging, unlimited anytime minutes, and access to many of the social networking apps such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. In fact, one commercial specifically sets the scene of a couple sitting at a diner table each with their phone in their hands sending text messages to each other. The man say’s “Did you just break up with me in a text message?” The woman not only affirms his question but also points out that with her new phone plan she can break up with him via e-mail as well as with a phone call, the man looks ambushed and put off. The simple fact that companies are now advertising the fact that face to face human interaction is just about unnecessary is very alarming.
The Dangers of Social Networking
There is an inherit danger involved with social networking as well. On May 20, 2010 Maryland State Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that prohibits the use of hand-held devices while driving. This is just the very early beginnings of the state’s aggressive distracted driver legislation. The law, which went into effect in October of 2010, is currently only enforceable as a secondary offense meaning that a driver must be breaking another traffic law before being cited for the use of a hand-held device. As time passes we are sure to see many more states adopt this type of law and most likely enforce it as a primary offense. Texting while driving is not the only thing that drivers are distracted by. There are apps out there today for your phone that allow you to update your Facebook status, compose a tweet and even go so far as to video conference. These are some of the more obvious dangers of social networking.
A more serious issue with social networking today is the ease of access to your personal information as well as the alarming amount of private details people share about their day. Children participate in social networking as well and at very young ages, which in turn allows sexual predators unprecedented access to photos of children as well as details of their whereabouts and their schedule. Aside from sexual predators, these sites also provide a playground for hackers and those that are out to steal your personal information in order to get gain from the user. Take for example Twitter which has an option to send a user a direct message (DM) that is not intended for the rest of the twitter population. In these direct messages you would send someone your phone number or email address. These DMs can be intercepted by a hacker and used to gather information on the user that can lead to further exposure.
A Threat to Your Career
Social networking can derail your career as well. There have been many cases where a user has said something about their boss or has divulged privileged, proprietary information on these sites that has in turn cost the employee their job and cost the company a lot of money. There is need to be concerned about your social networking activity especially if you are a heavy user. Many people have an account on multiple sites which can give a hacker puzzle pieces of your information that can be put together to provide them with all the information they need to do further damage such as bank accounts, etc. How could social networking be such a threat to your company? The truth is, the majority of activity on your social networking sites occurs during work hours and on company computers, BlackBerrys, and other resources. It is literally a nightmare for IT administrators to have to monitor the activity from these sites, therefore most companies prohibit, if not completely block access to these sites on their corporate networks. Be careful when using social networking sites at work, it could cost you your job, your company revenue, and much more.
Proceed With Caution
Social networking is one of the greatest inventions of this generation and is sure to be even more prominent with generations to come. There are inherent dangers and downsides with just about every type of technology, and while this can at times take away from the innovation, with some general security practices in place and good user education these threats can be minimized. There are sure to be more social networking innovations that change the way we communicate with each other as time passes, with that said, count on the threats to these innovations to be just as prominent. Social networking can be a great tool to stay connected when you are on the go. The options to contact someone no matter where you are seemingly endless. Use these sites wisely but don’t forget how to shake someone’s hand, introduce someone, carry on a face to face conversation or send the occasional letter, as these are still the most personal way to communicate. Take time to unplug for 15 minutes of each day and enjoy the life that is happening around you.