Tuesday, April 13, 2010


The popularity of Internet and social networking sites has increased greatly over the last few years. Social Networking involves the use of the internet to connect users with their friends, family and acquaintances. Social Networking websites are not necessarily about meeting new people online, although this does happen a lot. Instead, they are primarily about connecting with friends, family and acquaintances you already have in real life. The most known of these sites are Facebook, MySpace and Orkut. These sites allow you to share photos and videos, organize events, chat, download music and even play games online like Scrabble.

Majority of the youth that has access to the Internet spends majority of the time on such social networking sites. At Facebook, the most popular social-networking site, users make and keep in touch with friends, post pictures, and update their online “profiles.” Other social-networking sites include MySpace, Friendster, and Xanga. Twitter, another fast-growing network, combines interconnectivity with “microblogging.” Users write frequent, short bursts of information (also known as “tweets”) to keep up-to-the-minute current with one another.

One argues that all this online friend-forming is affecting teenagers’ development, according to experts. Researchers say social-networking sites are shortening attention spans, encouraging instant gratification, and making young people more self-focused. Extended use of the sites actually rewires the brain, causing teenagers to require constant reassurance that they exist. Other dangers are more subtle. Kids may no longer spend time completely alone, enjoying the benefits of reflection and solitude. Yet they may feel isolated because they’re less likely to be communicating with the real humans in their homes and schools. Finally, teenagers may focus even more on all the worries that accompany adolescence. So instead of escaping from their problems, kids dwell on them even more.


A few reasons why youth is highly involved in social networking are:

They want to participate and express their opinions. They have found the opportunity online.

It is a platform through which people from different parts of the world find others with common shared interests and discuss and build networks. It enables a person to share ideas and thoughts with individuals from various parts of the world.

It allows people to interact with those who they meet in reality, make plans and share photos, music, discuss on online communities.

Most youth use social networking to find a date or build relationships. It is an easier model to access others due to high anonymity.

Social networking is also used to create professional networks. A search engine enabled in the social network helps in finding individuals from a particular profession.

They use inbuilt chat, online games, quizzes and other applications that make them spend more time on the website.

A person can create a profile, a social virtual image, can talk about himself, promote his qualities to the world which may be absent in reality.

Social Networks are a unique way of interacting as compared to real-life communication. A few features that are different and attract the youth are:

1. Persistence: comments, posts, social network pages don't go away.

2. Searchability: anyone can find information about others easily.

3. Replicability: we can easily replicate a conversation (such as IM) in many other places

4. Invisible Audiences: you don't always know whom you're talking to.


In mediated environments, bodies are not immediately visible and the skills people need to interpret situations and manage impressions are different. People must learn to write themselves into being. Doing so makes visible how much we take the body for granted. While text, images, audio, and video all provide valuable means for developing a virtual presence, the act of articulation differs from how we convey meaningful information through our bodies. This process also makes explicit the self-reflexivity that is necessary for identity formation, but the choices individuals make in crafting a digital body highlight the self-monitoring. In some sense, people have more control online—they are able to carefully choose what information to put forward, thereby eliminating visceral reactions that might have seeped out in everyday communication. At the same time, these digital bodies are fundamentally coarser, making it far easier to misinterpret what someone is expressing. Furthermore, as, key information about a person’s body is often present online, even when that person is trying to act deceptively; for example, people are relatively good at detecting when someone is a man even when they profess to be a woman online. Yet because mediated environments reveal different signals, the mechanisms of deception differ

The desire to be cool on MySpace is part of the more general desire to be validated by one’s peers. Even though teens theoretically have the ability to behave differently online, the social hierarchies that regulate “coolness” offline are also present online. For better or worse, people judge others based on their associations: group identities form around and are reinforced by the collective tastes and attitudes of those who identify with the group. Online, this cue is quite helpful in enabling people to find their bearings

Youth looks for social approval online especially the ones who are devoid of it in real life. They forge their identities and create an image by joining specific communities, adding particular type of friends and writing or uploading images or videos that would generate clicks on their profiles. The more they are seen the more popular they become. It is a process of self gratification.

Adavantages of Social Networking

While socializing in chatrooms with other teenagers located all over the world, adolescents learn valuable perspective-taking, argumentative, decision-making and critical thinking skills. Playing online games may also help adolescents "develop cognitive skills such as spatial visualization, analog representation - the ability to read images - and divided visual attention, that is, being able to manage multiple components in a visual field at once."

Educationally, users of the social networks are more globally aware since they have immediate access to global issues, and the chance to read about global events from people in those settings.

Also niche networks such as gays and lesbians social websites have given them a platform to voice their social problems. Websites like LinkedIn have accelerated professional relationships. WizIq is a unique online teaching site where people take lectures or attend lectures free of cost.

Teenagers can also benefit emotionally and socially. Networking can aid adolescents as they explore their identities and can also "fulfill the need for social support, intimacy, and autonomy." Through perspective taking and racialized role taking, teenagers can become educated on racial and cultural issues while speaking with peers located on the other side of the country or even across seas. Social psychologists would say that to reduce stereotypes and prejudices, you need to interact with people different from you so you can see how similar they really are.

The Real Dangers Online

· Young people have a good idea of who is a stranger online and who isn't, the problem comes with the "invisible audience." Sometimes the lines are blurred, especially if a young person is going through a rough time and is vulnerable. The solution is more support and education.

Online problems are a mirror of the bad things that are going on offline, such as bullying or cheating.

 “Online" is a public place. It's not the technology; it's the people that are causing the problems. The solution is educating the people using the technology.

People providing the technology have to understand what is appropriate for which age groups and provide the right content. There should also be a way for users to contact or alert an adult if something happens that hurts them or makes them feel uncomfortable.

It cannot be argued that communicating in person is still vital for interpersonal relationships. "Every hour spent on social networks is one less hour spent learning how to effectively communicate face-to-face." While we can talk about changes that are taking place, the long-term implications of being

socialized into a culture rooted in networked publics are unknown. Perhaps today’s youth

will be far better equipped to handle gossip as adults. What we do know is that

today’s teens live in a society whose public life is changing rapidly. Teens need access to these

publics—both mediated and unmediated—to mature, but their access is regularly restricted.

Yet, this technology and networked publics are not going away. As a society, we need to

figure out how to educate teens to navigate social structures that are quite unfamiliar to us

because they will be faced with these publics as adults, even if we try to limit their access



Excerpts from:

Why Youth Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life: danah boyd


Under 18: Blogs, Wikis and Online Social Networks for Youth (http://sxsw.pbworks.com/Under-18:-Blogs,-Wikis-and-Online-Social-Networks-for-Youth)

The Affect of Social Networking Websites on Today's Youth: Associated Content

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