Social Networking

Lauren Bicanic

            Social networks have become an increasingly popular way for people to communicate over the last decade. Whether it is through a wall post, a picture, a video, or a link, users are able to share stories and details about their lives through social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and YouTube. Mark Zuckerberg, a Harvard student who hacked the university’s network to obtain photos and information about other students on campus, created Facebook in 2004. Today, Facebook has more than 845 million daily active users. According to information found on Facebook’s website, “[M]illions of people use Facebook every day to keep up with friends, upload an unlimited number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people they meet.”  However, if the man behind all of this was a hacker himself, what might this say about the security of the website itself?  Just how safe is this site and others?

            The truth of the matter is social networking sites are only as safe as a user makes them. Unfortunately, many of the free privacy settings available for users on the internet are not the default. To protect themselves, users must be sure to censor what they post online and activate the appropriate privacy settings to secure their information. Individuals who share their personal information online must realize that anything they post has the potential to be viewed by millions of people online, not just their friends. As authors Dianne Timm and Carolyn Duven suggest,“[W]hen an individual shares information on a social networking site, he or she is sharing that information with the rest of the world even if the intent was to share with only a select group of people” (Timm and Duven 90). The reality of online privacy is there is no way to ensure that what users post online will not be seen by other people. When users realize the reality of online privacy, they often feel violated or exposed. Understanding privacy is important, but activating those settings is even more crucial. Data posted on social networking sites should be fair game for employers and administrators of higher education because they provide insight into the applicant’s or student’s personal life, demonstrate responsibility and accountability, and may contribute to an individual’s professional growth by enhancing personal knowledge and skills obtainable only by online communication.

            Telephone numbers, addresses, social security numbers, and email addresses are all examples of information that most people consider private. But just how private is this information? The term “privacy” has become difficult to define with the growth of technology, specifically the internet. The expansion of technology has made what is private and what is not very unclear. People find themselves in situations where they believe they are protected, but discover the privacy agreement suggests otherwise. College students in particular are suffering consequences because of their lack of knowledge about privacy and social networking sites. Unfortunately, those students have very little concern for what they are publishing and who may come into contact with their information. It is not until they suffer negative consequences of their choices that they are appropriately educated about what they can do to protect themselves.

Understanding privacy rights related to the use of social networking sites is important for people of all ages. However, it is not until they understand the definition of privacy that they can understand their rights online. In their article “Privacy and Social Networking Sites,” Dianne Timm and Carolyn Duven define privacy as “personal information that an individual deems important and unattainable by the general population” (90). This is certainly true, but privacy on the internet does differ from one’s general privacy. Internet privacy includes the ability to control the information revealed about oneself online and remain private. Internet privacy is not promised by anyone and can be controlled only by the individual using the internet.

Many people are questioning the boundaries of internet privacy. Internet privacy can be defined as having the opportunity “to control the sharing of information and how it will be used and manipulated” (Timm and Duven 90). According to this definition, internet privacy is ultimately in the hands of the users online. Not everyone agrees, though. Some people believe that what they publish online is private and protected, oblivious to the fact that it is neither. To many students, Facebook and other social networking sites “blur the line between personal and public” (Brandenburg 597). Social media sites fool users by making them believe they are protected. Once a photo or comment is published online, however, it no longer belongs to the user. Photos that are published online may never be erased. Users would know about this information if they read the Agreement Policy, but most skip the 72 plus pages and simply “agree.” Unfortunately, many of the privacy settings on the internet are not the default. It is the users’ responsibility to change those settings to ensure their privacy. To protect themselves, users must be sure to censor what they post online and activate the appropriate privacy settings to secure their information.

            Social networking sites are set up to provide individuals with a way to communicate and share ideas. In order to join a site, one must create a username and password. In addition, most social networking sites ask for personal information which may include a current street address, phone number, date of birth, and current place of employment. What many users are unaware of is that, although they have removed that information from being visible to others, the social media site still has the information which may be given to additional websites. Chris Hughes, cofounder of Facebook, states in a personal conversation with authors Timm and Duven that “Facebook has provided ways for students to continue to connect online and that it is up to the user to protect his or her own information by using the tools provided on the site” (92). Although these options are available for all users, most do not take advantage of the privacy settings.

            Social networking sites are designed to be a safe and entertaining way to communicate with others. Most sites are successful in entertaining the users, but not all are secure. Users create an online profile and then share their profile with other users. As users create their profile, they have the option to make their profile “private.” When an individual uses these privacy settings to filter who is able to view his or her profile, he or she is under the impression that the information he or she posts will remain private (Timm and Duven 90). Unfortunately, users trust these social networking sites too much. Users should never assume they are protected. Instead they should censor what they publish online and assume that anything they post is public. Before posting, users should consider the purpose of sharing the information and accept the reality that the information will not remain as private as they intend. Users assume that what they post will be seen by their friends and other users that they have previously approved to view their profile.

            Student behavior has not changed dramatically over the past 20 years, but the way in which administrators are able to view this behavior has changed (Timm and Duven 95). Administrators can now discover information about students by consulting students’ social networking sites. This particular situation brings up a controversial issue involving privacy online. Students believe they should not be punished at school for what they have posted online. They believe administrators invade their privacy by viewing their online profiles. Students may feel violated after discovering that administrators have access to their profiles, but they do have an opportunity to prevent some of this from happening. Although students cannot completely block their profiles from administrators, the less they publish online, the less information administrators have to punish students. Students should not assume administrators will ignore what they see online, but instead refrain from posting inappropriate information on their profiles.

In the fall of 2007, Dr. Nora Barnes, Director for the Center of Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmoughth, published a study that showed more than 20 percent of colleges and universities search social networks for their admissions candidates (Fodeman and Monroe 2). Unfortunately, students are oblivious to how seriously universities take the information they post online. Carly Brandenburg suggests that social networking sites such as Facebook, Xanga, and MySpace may “provide more than the opportunity to share stories and details of a college student’s or graduate’s life” (597). The problem she identifies suggests that too many students and graduates “blur the line between personal and public” (Brandenburg 597). Many times college students do not filter their social networking pages. Social network users post photos that they would not mind their friends seeing, but they do not consider that other people can also see the information they post. As she writes in the beginning, “[E]mployers who hire graduating students are steadily discovering that social networking sites allow them to learn more than they ever could from reading an applicant’s resume and cover letter” (597). This may be an advantage for some and a disadvantage for others. For those users who are responsible and use social networking sites carefully, it may serve as an advantage. The way a person acts on the internet may reflect how a person acts in general. Someone who is responsible and takes things seriously on social networking sites will be evaluated better than someone who is not. For those users who post pictures from parties every weekend and like inappropriate pages, they may have ruined an opportunity for themselves. The way in which students act online is becoming increasingly more important as technology continues to grow.

Student-teacher relationships on Facebook and other social networking sites are being evaluated on a scale of appropriateness. As  Berhane Teclehaimanot and Torey Hickman draw attention to in their article, “Facebook provides opportunities for teachers and students to interact in new ways, but the guidelines and expectations for behavior have not been clearly identified” (21). Clearly, Facebook and other social networking sites would be an excellent source for students and teachers to use to communicate with one another after school. However, people argue that students and teachers contacting one another via social networking is inappropriate. Facebook could be used as a place for students to discuss certain topics and assignments with the ability for teachers to provide their input. Some teachers feel uncomfortable being “friends” with their students on these sites because it would give students access to their personal information. Some students are also opposed to being friends with their teachers on Facebook for the same reasons. What students and teachers do on the weekends should be private for both parties.

Online privacy is a controversial issue online that is only growing. With the advancements of technology, it is difficult to ignore the issues that come along with them. The only solution to these problems is for users to post all information carefully. It is their responsibility to censor their profiles. If photos are inappropriate for these social networking sites, students should refrain from publishing them online. Instead students activate what they think is high security only to find out there are always ways around the system. Unfortunately most people learn about the lack of online privacy the hard way. Social network users must stay on alert to keep themselves secure online. Social networking sites are out to trick their users. In order to outsmart these sites, users must take action and protect themselves by changing the default settings.  Ultimately, privacy is in the users’ hands.

The rapid growth of technology and the internet has made a significant transformation in the way in which individuals now communicate. As Edward Marsico points out, “[I]n the 1980’s, the suburban mall was the customary gathering place for young people to meet and chat. Today, many of those conversations occur on social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube” (967). Many people see this transformation as an advantage, for a variety of reasons. For example, messages are sent and received days faster than they were just 20 years ago. People thousands of miles away can now see each other on a daily basis via Skype, Facetime, and other video chat programs. However, some people frown upon this century’s communication innovation. They claim, for example, that it is unsafe and inappropriate. Others believe these methods of communication are appropriate only for older and more mature age groups. Depending on the criteria used for evaluation, Facebook and other social networking sites can be seen in positive or negative terms. If they are judged on the basis of safety, it seems clear that they are harmless as long as they are used properly.

Data on social networking sites is available to future employers and is used often. A user’s site provides employers with an “inexpensive way to perform background checks on job candidates” (Miller, Robert, Parsons, and Lifer 377). According to a 2007 study by the Ponemon Institute, as many as 23 percent of hiring managers use social networking sites to review job candidates (Miller, Robert, Parsons, and Lifer 377). Today, just five years later, the percent of employers who review candidates on social networking sites has certainly increased. This is mainly due to the simplicity and convenience that Facebook and other sites offer. The personal information provided on social networking sites is unlike the information provided in an interview. Profiles online provide employers with information that would be prohibited from being asked during an interview. Some of this information may include sexual orientation, marital status, and religious affiliation. The process of employers using social networking sites to find out more information about candidates is a controversial topic because many believe it is an unfair way to judge a candidate. Unfortunately, it does not seem that this process will end anytime soon, seeing that the internet and technology is growing each day. The most important thing for social networking users to remember is that anything and everything posted can and will be found by someone for whom it was not intended.

Facebook, the most popular social networking site and fourth most-visited website on the internet, has its advantages and disadvantages among students, teachers, and employers (Manago, Taylor, and Greenfield 369). Many people would agree with a statement by Facebook which states its mission is “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” (Facebook). However, making the world more open and connected is a concern to some individuals. Social networking sites are as safe and secure as users make them. Most sites have privacy settings that can be activated to further protect one’s personal information. According to Timm and Duven, “[B]oth Facebook and MySpace provide a clear privacy statement to inform users about the limits of protection that the site maintains for the information shared, as well as how the site will use the personal information provided” (91). Social networking sites want their users to be satisfied and feel protected which is why they make these privacy settings available for users. Ultimately, the way in which social networking users portray themselves online is up to them. It is up to users to make social networking an advantage for themselves, rather than a disadvantage.


Works Cited

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Marsico Jr., Edward M. "Social Networking Websites: Are Myspace And Facebook The Fingerprints Of The Twenty-First Century?" Widener Law Journal 19.3 (2010): 967-976. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Mar. 2012.

Miller, Robert, Kristine Parsons, and David Lifer. "Students And Social Networking Sites: The Posting Paradox." Behaviour & Information Technology 29.4 (2010): 377-382. Academic Search Premier. Web. 19 Apr. 2012.

Teclehaimanot, Berhane, and Torey Hickman. "Student-Teacher Interaction On Facebook: What Students Find Appropriate." Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning 55.3 (2011): 19-30. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Apr. 2012

Timm, Dianne M., and Carolyn J. Duven. "Privacy And Social Networking Sites." New Directions For Student Services 124 (2008): 89-101. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.