This literature review will look at the pros and cons of social networking in various environments, as well as the prolonged affects of using them. Miller (2011, p. 60) describes networks as having three specific elements: two or more people, links between them and the information flow between these people. This description can be used to describe a majority of the social networks that will be discussed in this review.
As the internet as risen in popularity, so has the idea of a “digital identity”. One of social networking sites most attractive feature to users is the ability to have your own “page” curated with images, information and videos of the users choosing. These page generally follow a specific layout for every user with a “profile photo” being the main focus of the page as well as maintaing a “friends list” (Buffardi, L.E., Campbell, W.K. 2008, p. 1303). Internet users can also choose to maintain a personal website completely separate from social networks, although these generally serve as a “hub” for directly visitors back to the aforementioned pages on social networks (Miller, V. 2011 p. 164).
Visitors to a user’s page on a social network can view (if the user has chosen to use Facebook’s “fill-in-the-blank system of personalisation”) information about a user, their favourite quotes, movies and books as well as education and relationship status (Buffardi, L.E., Campbell, W.K. 2008, p. 1305). As Miller (2011, p. 165) states, identity deception online is used by only a small number of users and anonymity is “not really possible to any great degree” whilst using online services (Miller, V. 2011, p. 167). This in itself leads to possible privacy issues (see “Privacy”) for those who wish to only share with specific individuals. The idea of a digital identity has also led to the popularity of personal journal blogging (Miller, V. 2011 p. 169) and has become a way for users of social networks to “work towards self-realisation” and expose there perceived personality to the world (Miller, V. 2011, p. 170).
On most social networks there is some element of having “friends”, specifically Facebook. These so called “friends” are not those typically associated with friends in the real, offline world. The social circles of users on social networks tend be to much larger than those in real life, with some having hundreds, or even thousands of “friends” (Buffardi, L.E., Campbell, W.K. 2008, p. 1304). This can lead to shallow relationships due to narcissistic tendencies (see “Psychological effects”). It is argued however, that narcissism is a trait already inherent in those engaging emotionally unfulfilling relationships with the short term goal of appearing popular (Buffardi, L.E., Campbell, W.K. 2008, p. 1304).
Despite this, some users are able to maintain meaningful relationships with friends and colleagues who may be outside of their day to day activities, and therefore would be unable to interact with them regularly without social networks (Zhao, D., Rosson, M.B., 2009, p. 243). Zhao and Rossen (2009, p. 244) noticed that users are able to build up a background perception and feel more intimate with a person through social networks and without having ever meeting them in person.
Cybersex is another element when talking about social networks. These networks have enabled users to meet other users willing to partake in so-called “cybersex”. Essentially, cybersex is an online chat (sometimes with video) between two people with the sole purpose of becoming aroused (Miller, V. 2011, p. 176). Although cybersex does happens between two members of an already existing relationship, the majority happens between two strangers due to the key element of cybersex that appeals to participants: anonymity (Miller, V. 2011, p. 177). These types of relationships are usually instigated through social networks such as Facebook, and to a lesser extend, Twitter. Due to a majority of users leaving their privacy settings as default (Wang, Y., Norcie, G., Komanduri, S., Acquisti, A., Leon, P.G., Cranor, L., 2011, p. 1) those looking to engage in cybersex can browse Facebook for potentials partners. As an extension to cybersex, internet users are also able to partake in entire lives online through services such as Second Life where cybersex is “supplemented by graphic imagery using avatars that simulate sex” (Miller, V. 2011, p. 177). These online worlds allow users to buy and sell land, houses and businesses for real money (Boyle, R. 2010).
Many businesses now encourage the use of social networking sites to help with “information sharing, building common ground and sustaining a feeling of connectedness among colleagues” (Zhao, D., Rosson, M.B., 2009, p. 243). Social networking sites are used as a medium to replace the now somewhat obsolete “water-cooler conversations” (Kraut, R., Fish, R., Root, R., Chalfonte, B., 1993). Zhao and Rossen (2009, p. 243) also suggest that the rise in popularity of social networks has caused more communication to happen through these sites, rather than face-to-face.
Social networks are a relatively new platform which can be used for creating a common ground among colleagues, leading to project and collaboration opportunities that may not have otherwise been available (Zhao, D., Rossen, M.B., 2009, p. 244). These opportunities however, may be negatively affected by those posting “regrettable” information, regrettable mostly due to using default privacy settings and therefore sharing information with those who it is not intended. Only a small percentage of users actually change there default privacy settings despite sharing detailed personal information and sharing photos that may be deemed inappropriate (Wang, Y., Norcie, G., Komanduri, S., Acquisti, A., Leon, P.G., Cranor, L., 2011, p. 1).
In both work and personal relationships, privacy is a huge issue. The UK has more surveillance that any other country in the world especially in the capital, London (Miller, V. 2011, p. 112). The notion of privacy on social networks in particular is a complicated one. One the one hand, users want to share photos, videos and information with those they deem to have common ground with as well as view the same from their peers to feel connected (Zhao, D., Rossen, M.B., 2009, p. 244). On the other hand however, there is a concern that some information shouldn’t be shared (e.g., client or project specific information) on the chance that someone whom the information is not intended might see it (Zhao, D., Rossen, M.B., 2009, p. 251).
Despite some believing privacy issues should be dealt with by the supplier of the service (social network), Miller (2011, p. 113) points out that it is “up to the individual to choose what information about one and one’s life is available, and to whom”. Many users regret posts that they make to Facebook for a number of reasons such as offending friends, maintaining a specific “image” or causing family issues (Wang, Y., Norcie, G., Komanduri, S., Acquisti, A., Leon, P.G., Cranor, L., 2011, p. 4-5). Wang, Norcie, Komanduri, Acquisti, Leon and Cranor (2011, p.5) also note that the majority of these “regrets” are related to who can and cannot see these posts, something which is adjusted in the privacy settings of a social network account.
As stated by Jackoway, Samet and Sankaranarayanan (2011, p. 1-2) Twitter is an “incredibly noisy medium” with 55 million tweets (posts) a day so it can be difficult to determine which stories will be reliable and relevant to the end user. Users of the service choose who to follow (to see that persons posts) but this is not necessarily reciprocal (e.g., the person who is being followed does not have to follow back) (Kwak, H., Changhyun, L., Hosung, P., Moon, P. 2010, p. 591). This means the end user can essentially filter down the 55 million posts to a few hundred for them to peruse.
Despite the shortcomings due to an overwhelming number of posts every day, Twitter boasts an advantage over regular news aggregators: speed. A news aggregator such as Google News will take some time to get a breaking story to the top of the page (Jackoway, A., Samet, H., Sankaranarayanan, J. 2011, p. 1) but Twitter’s “trending topics” are much faster to respond to stories that a majority of users are talking about, thus bringing the breaking story to the users (Kwak, H., Changhyun, L., Hosung, P., Moon, P. 2010, p. 592).
Buffardi and Campbell (2008, p. 1303) looked into how social networking sites can breed narcissism. They noticed that those with narcissistic traits are more likely to post “self promoting content”, have high levels of social activity online as well as maintain shallow relationships. In contrast, they also note that self-presentation on the Internet are the norm (Buffardi, L.E., Campbell, W.K. 2008, p. 1311) and that these narcissistic acts are almost identical to similar actions in real life. Many users also choose to use social networks as an outlet for emotional stress and anxiety (Zhao, D., Rossen, M.B., 2009, p. 245).
Despite the cons such as privacy, lack of anonymity and user regret, the pros of social networking sites far outweigh the cons when you look at how quickly a user can get access to breaking news, maintaining long-distance relationships and looking for, and gaining, work opportunities.