Social Networking: the Promise, the Reality, and the Dark Side

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In 1995 the first social networking site,, was established (Nickson, Christopher). The way humans connect and interact with each other- and the rate at which they could do it- was never the same. Today, people can contact their aunt 20,000 miles away with the simple click of a button. However, social networking did not start with Facebook and MySpace.

Social networking sites were born from the BBS, which stands for the Bulletin Board System (Nickson, Christopher). These online meeting places were independently-produced and allowed users to communicate with a central system where they could download files or games and post messages to other users. The BBS’s could only be accessed from a telephone modem so most users only connected with local people to avoid long distance charges. These local connections turned into an online gathering place for cities and counties. Although painstakingly slow, the Bulletin Board System of connecting with other people gained popularity very quickly.

Humans have a natural need for community and socialization. This was why Robin Dunbar, an anthropologist, created Dunbar’s Number. Dunbar's number is a theoretical limit of the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships with. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is. Dunbar's number, which on average is 150, states the number of people one knows and keeps social contact with, it does not include the number of people known personally but do not talk to any longer (Sen, Apurba and Weiss, Taly). However, the stability of these connections have changed over the time that social networking has been around. An individual might have 250 friends online, but studies have shown the group of people that the individual is “just barely in-touch” with is the highest compared to the individual’s “one-way relationships” and “closest friends”, which on average is only three people.

When the first social networking site was opened people were ecstatic. It was now possible to communicate with ease with friends and family who lived far away or were otherwise hard to reach. These new websites proposed an opportunity to make new friends as well as share your story with others.

Not only do social networking sites offer connections with other people, they have grown into sites that cater to people with certain needs and who have certain disabilities. These sites help to let these people lead a normal life by providing a safe place for people with the same condition to talk to each other and support one another (“Social Networking”). Studies have shown that “people who access these special sites and interact with other users lead a happier and more healthy life” (“Social Networking”).

In America, 60 million people have received life-changing help from family, friends, and even strangers while on social networking sites (“Social Networking”). This number shows that not only is the internet used to talk to friends, sites like Facebook and MySpace are used to create and contact support systems that many people would not have otherwise.

Social sites like DeviantArt make it possible for amateur as well as professional creativity to flow in a new medium and makes these works available to a broader audience (“Social Networking“). Social networking sites like these let people have special opportunities to change their lives by helping them find a new hobby or job that they love to do. This promise of community seemed very appealing when social sites were first opened to the public and has captivated millions of our population. However, as more and more people log on, the reality seems to be more obvious and the dark side of this operation rears its ugly head.

Social networking sites have become the root of our society today. About 94% of Americans between the ages of 18 to 34 use social networks, 67% of Americans 45 to 54 use social networks, and 55% of Americans of the age 55 and up use...
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