According to scholars, social networking sites must allow the user to construct a public or semi-public profile, articulate a list of users with whom they share a connection, and view their list of connections and those made by others within the system. This Lentis chapter will talk about the various ways people use social networks and its effects on our society. It will focus on Facebook and user ability to share, connect, and voice their opinions the social networking site. This chapter will also cover privacy issues with Facebook.
History of Social Networking Sites
The specific origins of social networks are up for debate. Some experts trace social networks back to the 1980s with the Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS), which allowed a company’s employees to communicate with each other through a computer for the first time. Most recognize either Classmates.com or SixDegrees.com as the first true social networking site. Classmates.com provided profiles for users for the first time, but did not originally display public friend lists in 1995. SixDegrees.com debuted in 1997 with public friend lists. As social networking sites gained momentum at the turn of the century, they focused on social groups with common interests. Sites such as AsianAve.com, BlackPlanet.com, and MiGente.com found success within their respective cultures. In the early 2000s, businesses realized the potential of social networks with the emergence of Ryze.com and LinkedIn.com. These sites allowed users to upload their resumes and stay in touch with their business contacts. From 2003 - 2005, social networking sites boomed. Some of the largest sites developed during this era include Friendster.com, MySpace.com, QQ.com, Facebook.com, and Twitter.com.
Sharing and Connecting
Social networking sites; Social networking sites are sites that allow you to freely post personal information including pictures and other information regarding oneself online. Social networking sites are created to help others find friends, family, and even meet new people by sharing information with them via the Internet. Two of the most common social networking sites used around the world are Facebook and Twitter. Several people of all ages are members of social networking sites. These sites can be easily accessed at home or on the go via mobile phones and any other devices connected to the Internet.
Family & Friends
Facebook allows social groups including families and friends to share and connect in ways not previously possible. Families and friends use wall posts and private messaging to keep in touch across long distances. Facebook users make connections with distant family members and forgotten friends through search capabilities, public friend lists, and applications such as We’re Related. Facebook even allows users to keep in better contact with their closest friends and family as users will make wall posts or private messages while perusing the website. Many experts argue Facebook brings families and friends closer by providing more communication links. However, others argue Facebook degrades relationships because it encourages interpersonal communication via the internet as a substitute for direct and physical communication.
Facebook groups allow interest groups to share ideas, perspectives, and information. Also, Facebook groups provide an ideal platform for groups to identify themselves and communicate publicly. Users use the group’s name, information page, and profile picture to identify themselves and the group wall to communicate publicly. Identity and mass communication instigates conversation and provides a platform for organization. The nature of social networks also provides instant access to information, allowing many groups to communicate in real time.
Businesses & Professionals
Businesses use Facebook to employ interactive and more targeted marketing techniques. Facebook provides businesses an advertisement on the right and Facebook pages to advertise their brand. Businesses interact with customers via status updates, wall posts, or video posts. However, Facebook’s largest appeal to advertisers is when friends pass adds to each other. When friends share advertisement videos among their friends they create buzz for the brand name. Friend passing advertisement videos is free. During the world cup Nike demonstrated the power of friend sharing with a three minute at called “Write the Future.” Nike placed it as a video ad on Facebook. Members began sharing the video with their friends and commenting on the video. During the world cup Nike increased its Facebook fans from 1.6 to 3.1 million. Old Spice has also tapped into Facebook’s ability to create brand name buzz through interactivity and friend sharing with its The Man Your Man Could Smell Like advertising campaign.
Facebook lets companies use personal information to target advertisements. Facebook uses information about users’ education, age, location, friend connections, status updates, etc. to help advertisers target their market.  For example, if your status includes engaged, you may find advertisements for wedding rings and dresses. However, personal information provided by Facebook has raised concern for privacy issues.
Social networks enable more people to voice their opinions with the world. Those already able to voice their opinions to large audiences, such as professional athletes, movie stars, or even the President, voice their opinions to larger audiences through social networks. Organizations spread their opinions on various issues in their profiles and users can talk about issues that interest them. The Facebook status feature allows users to express their voice to masses. Users tell all people looking at their profile whatever they want by updating their status. The Wall also allows people to reach larger audiences because posts are public.
Recently, the kicker of Boise State’s football team, Kyle Brotzman, missed the game winning kick in the final seconds of regulation and then missed another attempt in overtime that would have secured victory for him and his team. This extinguished any chance of Boise State being able to contend for the national title. Fans created Facebook pages overnight ranging from “Kyle Brotzman sucks” which has about 1800 fans to “The Bronco Nation loves Kyle Brotzman” that has almost 42,000 fans. ESPN reported that one fan even wrote on Brotzman’s wall saying “I hate you...I hope you die.” These instances show how social networks allow people to broadcast their opinions to a whole new audience that was not possible before the emergence of these sites.
Social networks, while proven to be a revolutionary type of communication media, have had their share of privacy concerns. On one side is the networks themselves. Sites like Facebook believe that user data should be protected, but they have been accused and occasionally caught transmitting data to outside advertisers. Users often believe information they share on any given site should be considered private information without having to worry about outsiders accessing their profiles.
Public vs. Private Information
What was considered private information 20 years ago is completely different today. A user on a social network like Facebook is given various settings so he can change the level of privacy to whatever he deems appropriate. He can change who sees his birthday, address, statuses, photos, and family relations. Navigating these settings can be tedious, ignore them, assuming it will not be a problem. The Internet has proven to create an illusion of safety and privacy. Whether from the fact that the user feels comfortable at his own desk in privacy or that he has his own “space” on the Internet, this illusion creates inherent boundary problems, and companies all around the world have taken advantage of this false sense of security.
A lack of a secure social network profile can lead to unforeseen consequences. In 2009, a Missouri family was shocked to find out that their 2008 Christmas card photo had been taken from the mother’s Facebook profile and used as a storefront advertisement for a grocery store in the Czech Republic. The store owner admitted the mistake, assuming the photo he took from the internet was generic. While no legal action was taken, the story serves as a firm reminder that anyone anywhere can access a photo posted on a network, no matter how stringent the privacy settings.
Privacy in the Working World
45% of employers use social networking sites to vet candidates for background checking and hiring.  There are countless stories about people being denied or even losing their jobs over racy photos, inappropriate language, and discriminatory comments made on sites thought to be private. In 2008, 13 Virgin Atlantic employees were fired over comments made on Facebook directed toward passengers on a flight out of Gatwick Airport in London (BBC).
Some see social networks as a liability to national security. Many government companies deny access to these websites for a variety of reasons. The Marine Corps banned Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter in 2009. Social Networking sites allow users to communicate their location and what they are doing. In war situations, the military does not want enemy insurgents to see revealing information on social networking sites. Some of these sites also provide avenues for malicious software and viruses to enter government computers and servers. The ban effectively mitigates cyber security risks.
Facebook vs. Congress
In Spring 2010, Facebook was found to be transmitting user information when users clicked an advertisement on the site. Facebook acknowledged the problem and subsequently fixed it.
In October 2010, The Wall Street Journal published a front page article alleging Facebook was allowing applications (those like Farmville and Texas HoldEm) to transmit identifying user information to multiple advertisers and Internet tracking companies. The “breach” as WSJ labeled it, included tens of millions of users, even those with the strictest of privacy settings. This article came just after the site debuted new privacy settings allowing users more control over who can see what information.
Already dealing with a public relations problem, Facebook received a letter from Congress inquiring about the “breach” mentioned in the WSJ article. The letter expressed concern over the “third-party applications gather[ing] and transmitt[ing] personally identifiable information about Facebook users and those users' friends." On October 28, Facebook’s Vice President for Global Public Policy Marne Levine responded saying the article incorrectly called the problem a “privacy breach” because it did not involve what Facebook calls “the sharing of any private user data.” This contradictory statement shows the vastly different opinions of what constitutes private information.
The future of the privacy battle Congress has initiated is unclear. The incoming Congress can press the issue and push for legislation limiting companies like Facebook and Twitter from using user data to sell advertising.
Look here for further reading about privacy concerns associated with Facebook.
Social networks enable their users to share content, connect with other users, and voice their opinions to anyone, anywhere in society. These sites are proof that technology is often used in ways that the user does not readily anticipate. Privacy concerns, addiction, and cyber-bullying have become problems that need outside intervention and often regulation. Later versions of this Lentis chapter ought to expand on the effects cyber addiction and bullying have on the user and what can be done to mitigate these problems.
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