Social networking has had a major influence on society in the 21st century, enabling citizens to engage with each other in radically new and different ways. According to Brown (2011), we can fall in love online, create friendships, attend parties in other countries – all without leaving the comfort (and anonymity) of our armchair. And while the Generation Ys and Xs in our society are leading the adoption of the emerging social networking websites, it has been noted that the older generations are now catching up, with the strongest recent growth in usage among the 55 and 65 age group (Burbary 2010). So what does this apparent ‘revolution’ mean for society? How is social networking changing the way people relate to each other, and can we say that it has led to an improvement in relationships? This essay will argue that in the area social and political awareness, social networking has had a strongly positive effect. In other areas of society however, there is cause for some concern. Background to social networking
The idea of a ‘social network’ is not new. A social network in fact refers to any structure made up of individuals (or organizations) tied to one another though some type of interdependency, such as friendship, common interest, financial exchange and so on (Oxford Dictionary of Sociology 2011). What is radically new however, is web-based social networking, which has allowed these networked structures to develop in much more extensive and elaborated ways. Beginning with specialised online communities in the 1990s such as Geocities and Tripod.com, online social networking became a mass phenomenon in the 2000s with the development of individual user profile functions, and enhanced capacity to share activities, and interests within individual networks.
Nowadays, the main social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter enjoy hugesuccess, with Facebook – arguably the most successful of these – boasting more than 750 million users worldwide. The appeal of social networking seems to vary. Some surveys point to more pragmatic social motives such as “staying in touch with friends, organising social activities, or flirting with someone” (Lenhart & Madden 2007, p. 23). Other studies however, allude to deeper psychological needs such as the need for a sense of belonging, or the need to project one’s identity (Ridings & Gefen 2004). Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, is sure that the chief appeal comes from social networking’s ability to empower people by giving them a ‘voice’. He is also sure that this capacity has meant that his technological creation has been overwhelmingly a force for good.
Effects of social networking on social relationships
In order to understand the effects that the new media have had on social relationships, it is necessary to break the term ‘relationship’ into three elements: relationship with the broader community, relationships with ‘friends’, and relationship with self. In terms of the relationship with the broader (sometimes global) community, there is much evidence to suggest that the social media user has a greater awareness of social issues (Shirky 2011). As a result of this greater access to information, many social media users have a strengthened relationship with the broader community, with a more immediate ability to become involved in collective action (Shirky 2011).
This activist dimension of the web has been particularly evident in a number of popular struggles against repressive governments in recent times. In Iran, for example, social networking became crucial in the revolt of the citizenry against the country’s presidential elections held in 2009, and widely believed to be rigged. In response to the government’s monopoly over conventional media (newspapers, television and radio), many Iranians turned to social-networking tools both to circulate alternative sources of news, and to organise a dramatic series of street...
References: capital’ Proceedings of the 2008 International Communications Association Annual Meeting,
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