Social Networking Sites: Boon or a Bane

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They called it the Twitter Revolution: A dictator tightened his grip, the people took up arms, and social networking was there to be their megaphone, to send their voices soaring over the clattering din of government censorship. It was 2009, and the fix was in on the state of Iran's federal elections. The re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proved so unthinkable for many of the nation's citizens, they took to the streets in open defiance; when their own government tried to silence their voices, it was Twitter that became their quickest, clearest way of communicating with those of us in the West. Even the U.S. State Department intervened, asking the Twitter powers-that-be to postpone scheduled maintenance in order to keep the lines of conversation open.

It was—and is—a powerful example of the social media revolution being used for good—after all, who among us would deny that the freedom of expression is ultimately a good and noble thing, that any device allowing for an oppressed people to raise their voices in open defiance of censorship is, on some level, praiseworthy?

Contrast it with the picture of social networking that we are given in a recent film, The Social Network. This movie, recipient of ceaseless laud from film critics and a major contender at this year's Academy Awards, tells the story of the inception of Facebook. According to the film, the creator of the social networking giant, Mark Zuckerberg, started Facebook as a way of enacting revenge on women who scorned him. The final moments of the movie show him sitting, alone at his computer, unable to connect with other human beings in any direct way and therefore turning to the only source of intimacy he can fathom—Facebook.

Two different pictures of social network: One of freedom and empowerment, one of alienation and spite. The point, of course, is not that Twitter is good and Facebook is bad. The point is that these and other social networking tools like them are essentially empty...
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