Social Networking Services

Social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo are some of the most popular online destinations* for young people today. These sites provide home pages on which the user can display* their personal ‘profile’, including information such as their location, interests and tastes as well as photos or videos, music tracks and links to friends’ pages. Home pages may also include facilities for chat, file sharing*, blogging and discussion groups.

Such sites have many attractions and benefits for young people. These would include being able to meet people with the same interests and find ‘like-minded’ communities; the ability to discuss sensitive issues anonymously in potentially supportive* environments; and the opportunities for self-expression which are not possible to the same degree in face-to-face situations . These benefits stem partly from the anonymity and the global reach afforded* by the internet. Anonymity is most obviously important in discussions concerning sensitive issues (e.g. sexuality,). Such situations can also overcome the disadvantages of some face-to-face environments in which there are unequal power relationships (for example, times when children’s knowledge or opinion may not be respected). ...

Anonymity brings risks as well as benefits, particularly around unwanted contact (bullying and ‘stranger danger’). There is concern that online social networking is bringing bullying into the home outside of school hours, a different experience from face-to-face bullying which is more limited in terms of time and place. Some research has suggested that girls may be particularly at risk of being bullied in this way. Issues of trust are connected to bullying, particularly when trust is established on a false basis and then intentionally broken in order to cause emotional harm. Trust and anonymity are also key issues in relation to grooming* practices in which older men portray themselves as younger for the purpose of seducing* under-age girls. The extent to which sexual abuse is occurring through social networking services is questionable, however : it is still the case that the vast majority of sexual abuse occurs in the home and between known contacts where the adult is clearly recognisable. The other concern discussed in the previous section which is relevant here is about greater access to ‘hate speech*’ or other anti-social content (neo-Nazi or pro-anorexia* groups, for example). The concern here is that young people are finding support for activities that they otherwise would not have found. .....

As outlined in the introduction to this section, there are more subtle issues that relate to social networking to do with privacy and trust; and these are also tied in* with the commercial component of social networking services. As evidenced by the recent high-profile sales of social networking sites, this is a highly commodified* enterprise. eMarketer research estimates that revenue* from social networking advertisements will amount to $1.9 billion in total by 2010, and marketers are seeing these advertisements as a key point of access to the pocket books of young people. Online marketing on social network sites includes data mining* information on users’ pages, and then ‘hypo-targeting’* individual users with personalized advertisements based on demographic and psychographic data. New ‘social advertising’ programs are capable of collating* individual users’ actions across a variety of websites, and can also access an individual’s list of friends for advertising purposes. In addition to these developments, various companies have established their own pages on social networking sites in attempting to capture a young audience.

Although we may question the proliferation* of these more targeted forms of advertising, some research indicates that young people are adept at ignoring advertising, and only engaging with advertisements that are entertaining, relevant or have some value. Previous research on young people’s understanding of television advertising shows that children can often display a considerable degree of cynicism about it – although this does not necessarily mean that it fails to influence them. However, the European Research into Consumer Affairs report (2001) suggests that children are confused by the blurring* of advertising and content on websites.

One of the main concerns in relation to these new forms of marketing is to do with privacy. Many young people see marketing as an invasion of their privacy, and 95% of teens in the UK are concerned that their personal information is being passed on to advertisers and other websites. However, research is showing that when young people trust a social networking service, they are more willing to divulge* personal information; and young people’s public display of information is providing fraudsters* with access to details which can result in identity theft . This research also suggests that people trust messages that appear to originate from friends in their social network - yet it is not difficult to pose as a friend and send a fraudulent message.

Although young people are aware of the risk of sharing personal information, they see social networking sites as private or peer-defined spaces . Research shows that online social networking is seen as part of youth culture: the point of having a page is to be part of a peer network, to define one’s identity for a wider social group, to negotiate and manage public identity and to build a community of ‘friends’. Young people see social networking sites as spaces for play, often submitting false information or jointly constructing a single page with a group of friends. Although social networking pages can be marked as ‘private’ by the user, policies vary from site to site: some services withhold information marked private from marketers, while others, such as Facebook, sell such information ‘for marketing purposes’, even after a user has quit a service. Importantly, research is showing that companies’ privacy policies are difficult to understand, and young people are in need of training in order to make the most of the facilities available to them on social networking sites .

Recent reports suggest that the information young people post online is sometimes used when they apply for jobs, internships, clubs or schools, as well as by organisations such as university police looking for ‘misbehaviour’. Clearly there is a need here to develop young people’s critical understanding of the public nature of social networking sites as well as the privacy settings available to them.
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1045 words

The Impact of the Media on Children and Young People with a particular focus on computer games and the internet
By the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media, Institute of Education, University of London, Dec. 2007

*destination - Ziel
*to display, darstellen, zeigen
*file sharing - datentausch
*supportive - unterstützend, stützend
*to afford - bieten, gewähren
*grooming - here: sich als etwas anderes ausgeben, um jdn zu täuschen
*to seduce - verführen
*hate speech - Volksverhetzung
*anorexia - Magersucht, Anorexie
*tied in - verbunden sein mit
*commodified - kommodifiziert, kommerzialisiert
*revenue - Einnahmen
*data mining - Datengewinnung
*hypo-targeting - äußerst gezielt bewerben
*to collate - zusammentragen, vergleichen
*proliferation - Ausbreitung
*blurring - Vermischung
*to blurring - here: preisgeben
*fraudster - Betrüger

1. Write down in a few sentences what social network services are.
2. What are the main reasons why young people are attracted so much by these services?
3. What risks do young people take when subscribing to such services?
4. What benefits or profits do services like Facebook make from providing their services?
5. Do you personally recognize more risks or more benefits in joining such services? Substantiate your argument.

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