Social networking websites have become increasingly popular in the past decade. These websites provide an interactive way of keeping in touch with friends and family through photos, blogs, music, and videos. Many people believe that websites such as MySpace and Facebook are just for fun. According to a poll conducted by Larry D. Rosen, a shocking 83% of teenage users believe MySpace is safe (qtd. in Clemmitt 628). However, these social networking sites have become a topic for major news headlines and newspaper articles, warning people about their dangers. This issue has people asking: Are these websites dangerous? and can these sites really be harmful? Social networking websites are not forms of harmless entertainment but present more dangers than mere entertainment.
The amount of people using these sites has risen greatly in the past couple of years. Not only have the numbers gone up for teenage users, but for adult users as well. According to recent statistics discovered in an article by Marcia Clemmitt:
Over the past fifteen years, a slew of new Internet applications—from chat rooms
to instant messaging and, most recently, social-networking websites—have made online socializing easier than ever. By the end of 2004, for example, about 70 million adults logged onto the Internet every day in the United States alone—up from 52 million four years earlier—and 63 percent of American adults were Internet users. Teens were logging on at even higher rates—87 percent of those ages 12-17. (“Cyber Socializing”)
In other words, the number of Internet users has substantially risen, in less than half a decade by 18 million. Based on results from a March 2006 study, MySpace has the most loyal users, with an enormous 67 percent retention rate (Clemmitt 632). In comparison, Facebook has a 51.7 percent retention rate. Although many return to these sites thinking that they are safer than they would be in chat rooms or while instant messaging that may not always be true.
These social sites really are not safe and they present more dangers than may first appear. They allow the user to display information such as his or her hometown, schedule of classes, interests, and even the school he or she attends. Not only do they display such items, but users can also upload pictures of themselves onto their pages and some even include screen names they use on instant messenger as a form of contact information. Most users are unaware that “social networking sites have greatly increased Internet users’ ability to discover other users’ full personal information” (Clemmitt 628). This implies that your profile can be viewed by anyone who is already a member of the website.
In fact, MySpace allows any member to access any other member’s profile. You never know who is looking at your profile. Anyone can download information about you just by looking at your profile and this is potentially dangerous. More specifically, users not only can send constant emails back and forth they also access chat rooms. According to Ron Stanford, “In the last month, authorities have charged at least three men with sexually assaulting teenagers they found through MySpace.com and just this week police found a missing fifteen year-old girl who investigators say was sexually assaulted by a 26-year-old man she met through the site” (“Why Parents”). To put it another way, MySpace has proven itself dangerous when it comes to meeting strangers. Furthermore, because you do not know these people, you do not know for sure that they are not sexual predators.
In addition, countless numbers of people post pictures that are offensive and less than pleasing. Some pictures, which are displayed on certain MySpace accounts, can be defined as “sexually selective.” Marcia Clemmitt states, “Some worry that networking sites create added peer pressure for teens engaging in risky behavior, such as posting risqué picture of themselves” (627). Also, as a result of these pictures being posted, the probability of attracting a sexual predator is great.
Although it is the most widely known social networking site, Michael Miller argues that “MySpace is hardly the only website to pose safety challenges from sexual predators or identity thieves” (“Warning Children”). Facebook or, as some like to refer to it, the “college version of MySpace,” is also making headlines. Igor Hiller, a seventeen year old freshman at the University of California, Santa Barbara affirms “ ‘It’s making it so much easier for people who want to do stalking, to stalk,’ ” (quoted in Stanford). Although this site is similar to other networking sites, it is also a little safer. Facebook allows users to set their profiles to a private setting, unlike MySpace, and when this is done properly, only a default picture can be viewed. Unlike MySpace, Facebook makes it possible to prevent users from adding you.
On the other hand, many people argue that MySpace and Facebook are quite a bit safe. Even going as far as espousing that they are good sources of entertainment. Even though both websites can be set to “private,” this is not indeed true. Consider the people who are on an individual’s profile as well as those who are on others. Users need to be aware of the danger: “The wealth of information on their pages—plus information gleaned by reading their friends’ pages—allows strangers to learn far more about a use than they could about someone posting a comment” (Clemmitt 628). In other words, even though a user’s page is set to private, information is shared and therein lays the danger.
So are social networking websites merely form of harmless entertainment? Private is not really private and information posted on MySpace and Facebook are not really safe from people who are determined to misuse and abuse this information. The number of users has substantially risen in the last decade and the numbers will continue to double and quadruple in the next decade. Are they really safe? As long as users keep the amount of personal information to a minimum on their profiles and keep their profiles blocked, they should be well off but they should stay cautious about the people they add and what type of information is added.