Essay on the Benefits and Concerns of Social Networking
Number of words: 1309
The Internet has provided a platform for the sharing of personal information that has revolutionised the way people entertain themselves, interact and connect with each other. The transformation brought about by such social networks has led to both benefits and concerns over their use. On one hand, the internet has provided technological innovations that have made the sharing of information and photographs through social networks highly accessible, which have allowed individuals to stay connected during a pandemic and to keep in touch with loved ones. On the other hand, such social networks have been vulnerable to privacy leaks, hosting of objectionable content, and the abuse of personal data by third-parties. The ethical concerns of privacy breaches and personal data misuse may outweigh the advantages of social networks.
The capabilities of technological innovations on social networks
Foremost, technological innovations such as cloud-hosted social networks, interactive multimedia content and accessible platform interfaces have allowed billions of people to readily share their information and photographs through social networks. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Wechat have allowed individuals to upload information and photographs of their personal lives, and to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and parties with their friends and family. Cloud-hosted social networks have allowed these platforms to scale access to such information hosting services to billions of users, by supporting large volumes of information, photographs and media. Furthermore, accessible platform interfaces and interactive multimedia content have made these platforms highly engaging. For example, users on Twitter can like, share and comment easily on the photographs and information of their contacts, while Facebook and Snapchat support photographic filters, emoji icons and other features that make sharing such information fun and addictive.
Advantages of social networks: Staying connected with the community
There are several advantages to the use of social networks to share information and photographs. Foremost, such sharing has allowed friends and family members to stay connected and up-to-date with the lives of their loved ones. This has become particularly important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, where shelter-in-place orders and lockdowns have led to a state of prolonged isolation for many people in the world. Such isolation has had significantly negative effects on the mental health of people under lockdown, and has fortunately been alleviated by their ability to connect and engage with others on social media. A 2021 study by Hajek and Konig (2021) found, for example, that grandparents could use social media platforms as a way of viewing the photographs and information of their grandchildren and loved ones, which help to mitigate the loneliness and social isolation they may face (Hajek & Konig, 2021).
Furthermore, social media has provided a way for people to keep in touch with an extended network comprising not only their close family members and friends, but also their acquaintances, colleagues and schoolmates. This has allowed for the development and fostering of relationships over time, and for individuals to stay up-to-date on the developments in their social circle in a convenient and accessible manner.
Finally, social media has allowed individuals to make new friends and connect over shared interests. Groups related to interests such as craft coffee, environmental conservation and yoga have flourished on Facebook in recent years, and this has allowed individuals to share their individual moments and photographs as a way of connecting with strangers with the same set of interests.
Disadvantages of social networks: Privacy leaks, objectionable content, misuse of data and addiction to social networks
However, there are significant concerns related to the sharing of information and photographs through social networking, which has led to a number of ethical dilemmas. Foremost, the personal information and photographs hosted on these social media platforms are vulnerable to hacks and breaches, which have led to the unauthorised release of user data to malicious actors. In April 2020, Facebook admitted that the phone numbers of 533 million users had been leaked (Beiji & Liu, 2020). Incidents such as these represent the potential for social media platforms to unwittingly disclose valuable personal information to hackers, which could use such details for malicious intent.
Furthermore, the information and photographs hosted on social media occasionally includes objectionable and immoral content, such as those related to child pornography, terrorist activities and drug abuse. Social media networks have struggled to keep up with the wide variety of objectionable information and photographs posted on their platforms, and have not been able to successfully censor the full range of such content (Beigi & Liu, 2020). The proliferation of such content on social media platforms is problematic as it represents the spread of criminal activity on these platforms, and could cause significant distress to the victims of such activities. The information and photographs of individual users can also be used by conmen to target platform users in a variety of inventive scams.
Social media platforms have also been found to have abused personal user information and photographs for commercial gain. The Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that Facebook had provided unfettered access of the personal information of over 87 million users to the third party data firm Cambridge Analytica, which could have been then leaked to foreign governments to use as part of a disinformation campaign in the 2020 U.S. elections. Furthermore, social media information is regularly collected and used as part of cookie-based marketing activities, which represent a breach of user privacy that social media network users may not have consented to (Di Minin et al, 2021).
Finally, the photographs and information hosted on social media platforms have been shown to be addictive. As social media platforms tend to surface the most engaging content to users on their feed, this has led to a cycle of addiction among social media users, who are constantly enticed to keep up with their friends and family. Such addiction to social media use could potentially result in significant mental health consequences for their users.
In conclusion, the use of social networking to share information and photographs is a double-edged sword that provides both significant benefits and concerns. While individuals are able to stay connected and networked through their engagements with such information and photographs, such content is vulnerable to privacy breaches and the abuse of data. The photographs and information hosted on these social networks may also be highly objectionable, and could be addictive to users. Hence, greater regulation and oversight is necessary to ensure that the sharing of information and photographs through social networks is done in a responsible manner that protects the interests of its users.
Beigi, G., & Liu, H. (2020). A survey on privacy in social media: Identification, mitigation, and applications. ACM Transactions on Data Science, 1(1), 1-38. https://doi.org/10.1145/3343038
Di Minin, E., Fink, C., Hausmann, A., Kremer, J., & Kulkarni, R. (2021). How to address data privacy concerns when using social media data in conservation science. Conservation Biology, 35(2), 437-446. https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13708
Hajek, A., & König, H. H. (2021). Social isolation and loneliness of older adults in times of the CoViD-19 pandemic: can use of online social media sites and video chats assist in mitigating social isolation and loneliness?. Gerontology, 67(1), 121-124. https://doi.org/10.1159/000512793
Hargittai, E., & Marwick, A. (2016). “What can I really do?” Explaining the privacy paradox with online apathy. International journal of communication, 10, 21. Retrieved from https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/4655
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