Facebook’s closest competitors, Twitter, LinkedIn, My Space, and Google, don’t come close to having as many subscribers. In fact, according to eBiz, an ebusiness data group that ranks Internet business traffic, Facebook’s unique monthly visitor numbers outnumber the rest of the top 15 social networks combined.
Internet technology has changed the way many people communicate. According to a recent “Consumer Report” (“Facebook and your privacy”), Facebook Chief Operation Officer Sheryl Sandberg believes Facebook and other social networks are “rewriting the rules” of social engagement.
With Internet access, anyone can use the social network to communicate with family, friends and acquaintances globally. Social networks provide opportunities to share photos of family, include others in celebrating success stories or even vent over irritating issues.
Families have found solace by joining support groups such as Marine Moms, Bravo Family and Friends, and others.
Through the network family and friends of deployed Marines can pass information to the general population, express feelings and frustrations about missing loved ones that others might not understand, give and receive ideas about what to send to the troops, and exchange words of encouragement.
Social communication has long provided the exchange of ideas and information. In Blount County, on Straight Mountain south of Oneonta, an oak tree once served as the community’s “Facebook.”
The tree stood at a fork in the dirt road, one way going to an old mill and spring, the other to the top of the mountain. The number of nails and staples found in the tree when it was cut down indicated there were hundreds of announcements posted on the tree through the years.
At the spring, women gathered to wash clothes and catch up on community news — who had been sick, who was getting married, who was having a baby, etc.
Fast-forward to the 1980s. A popular TV program focused on the importance of social interaction. “Cheers” was a perennial favorite, running for 11 years. Its theme song reflected the social need of those gathering at the tavern. It was a place “where everyone knows my name.”
But there can be a dark side to the 21st century Internet social network phenomenon. Social networking can provide opportunities for predators to prey on the vulnerable, can influence an employer’s decision to hire an employee or result in loss-time production on the job.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Internet-based social networking sites have created a revolution in social connectivity. However, con artists, criminals and other dishonest actors are exploiting this capability for nefarious purposes.”
The FBI reports that “predators, hackers, business competitors and foreign state actors troll social networking sites looking for information or people to target for exploitation.”
Once information is posted, it becomes public. Through a variety of methods others may be able to gather sensitive information, information thought secure, information that can adversely affect the subscriber’s finances or reveal information not necessarily designed for public use.
A problem employers may face is loss-time production.
InsideTech.com reports that instant messaging, personal communications and web surfing are major time wasters. When time wasters become lost job productivity, social networking can pose a major problem for industry.
A report by the Department of Telecommunications at Michigan State University says social networking contributes to the $178 billion annually lost in productivity. Other contributors to lost productivity include online shopping, gaming, auctions, personal investing and online viewing of pornography.
“Cyberslacking” is the term that is used to describe the use of the Internet and mobile technology during work hours for personal purposes.
According to the MSU report, other concerns regarding cyberslacking include threats to network security, strain on organizational bandwidth, and can make employees vulnerable to lawsuits involving securities fraud and sexual harassment, among other concerns.
Pandora, a corporation formed to help customers control, monitor and protect themselves from Internet abuse, reports, “Statistics indicate that checking the social network profiles at work has become the new coffee or cigarette break.
”The problem is, it can be done without anyone, especially mangers, noticing. It’s very easy for an employee to spend many hours each day checking their Facebook page.”
According to Pandora, 77 percent of U.S. workers check their Facebook pages from work, spending 40 minutes on the site. This doesn’t include other random web surfing.
Another potential problem with social networking may strike closer to home.
Recently parents in the Sylacauga area, who wish to remain anonymous, became frantic when they realized their daughter wasn’t in her room. Within 24 hours the mother discovered that her daughter was with friends she met on Facebook.
The daughter, a juvenile, was found with two young men in their 20s. Fortunately, the mother said, there was no evidence of indecent behavior.
Originally Facebook was established for college students. Later older teens were permitted to establish accounts. According to Facebook’s terms of service, 13-year-olds are now allowed to establish accounts.
“How do we expect a minor child to handle Facebook when adults can’t handle it,” the Sylacauga mother said.
She said she monitored her daughter’s Facebook every day. However, her daughter had managed to block the individuals’ pages from her mother so she had no idea her daughter was communicating with the individuals she left with.
“I was shocked and couldn’t believe this could happen to me,” the mother said.
With iPods, iPads and cell phones, even if you take away the computer there is no way to know if your child is on Facebook or any other Internet social network at 2 a.m.
“I just want everyone to know about the dangers of Facebook,” the Sylacauga mother said.
Contact Mark Ledbetter at firstname.lastname@example.org