One recent night, I woke up to the bright glow of the computer screen and the rhythmic tap-tap-tapping of someone at the keyboard. Glancing at the glow-in-the-dark wall clock, I saw that it was already 2 a.m., way past the bedtime of my cousin, who should be up and about at 6 a.m. and getting ready for school. Wow! She must be really hardworking, to be burning the midnight oil doing schoolwork almost every single night, weekends and holidays included. But then, why is it that her parents are always being called over by her teachers because of her failing grades?
Stifling a yawn, I decided to get up and help her with her lessons. But, she turned down my offer with a curt “I can manage. Go back to sleep.” Imagine my surprise when, stealing a glance at the computer screen, I saw that she was actually Tweeting and Facebook-ing! Noticing my glance, my cousin, with amazingly quick reflexes, immediately pressed the Alt +Tab key code and pretended to be doing her homework instead. Huh. Well. That explained everything.
Now comes the big question: Is social networking as beneficial as netizens claim it to be, or is it actually harmful? Is it a boon, or a bane?
Social networking can truly be a great tool in facilitating communication; it is useful in just about every facet of our lives, from business corporations marketing their products and announcing information about job openings, to friends and family members exchanging greetings and extending sympathies. Loved ones and friends separated by oceans are now simply a click away, with real-time conversations made a whole lot cheaper and more convenient than ever before. All of a sudden, we find that we can easily keep abreast with the latest happenings around the globe, voice our opinions and suggestions, and see what our relatives and friends are doing by just logging on to Facebook, Twitter, or any other social networking site.
Social networking has truly become one big arena for the sharing of virtually everything—school files, songs, pictures, videos, sentiments. Indeed, the world is now as connected as it has never been, its borders and boundaries reduced to nothingness. The Sherman brothers were right: It’s a small world, after all.
And yet, coupled with this world of unparalleled possibilities are dangers and threats that prey on the naive and the unsuspecting. I should know; I’ve experienced these myself.
Months into social networking, I soon realized that what I say and post today—the seemingly insignificant comment, the trivial picture or video—can actually make or break me in the future. One of the dangers that lie in social networking is that once something is posted, be it a sweet or silly note or a rude and vulgar comment, it can never be truly erased, for what one deletes can still exist in the web and in the memories of other people’s computers years later. Many times I’ve found myself at the short end of the proverbial stick over the circulation of a picture I’d rather no one saw months after I deleted it. I have realized the importance of thinking before I post, and considering before I click.
But that was not all, for I soon realized that there is another predator lurking in the shadows of social networking sites: identity theft. These thieves—criminals in their own way—swoop down on the naive, on those who simply befriend anyone and everyone who send them a “friend” request, or those who put up their private information for the entire World Wide Web to see. I remember being surprised and more than a little mortified upon learning that the person I’ve been chatting with for the past week was actually an impersonator using the same name and profile picture as my classmate.
Also, promiscuity can become more widespread than it already is with cybersex and child pornography—already illegal and harmful as they are—made even more accessible through the use of social networking sites. Blocking is no longer a feasible solution for parents, as most schools facilitate the dissemination of information, announcements and even course notes through these sites. Thus, moral pollution, especially among the youth, has become even more difficult to curb, with parents having a harder time keeping track of what their children are viewing or who their children are chatting with.
There is just something about the anonymity of social networking that makes it so easy for unscrupulous people to target the naive and engage them in harmful conversations. These people can easily pose as someone else and lure others into meeting with them in the real world, where the latter find themselves the unfortunate victims of theft, kidnapping, and even rape.
Then there are the dangers of cyberbullying and stalking. Many a reputation has been destroyed through a few carelessly placed comments and thoughtless criticisms from 9Gag or Meme Center, posted and shared on Facebook, for example. “Just fun” is no longer “just,” after all, when someone’s reputation is smeared.
But perhaps the most insidious of all the dangers that lurk in social networking is the slow but sure addiction of users to these sites, leading to their losing sight of what is truly important in life. Nowadays, even some office workers find themselves unable to resist the lure of Facebook or Twitter during office hours. Personal time in the company of family and friends is also now being traded in for Facebook, Twitter or Flickr.
There is just something about social networking that causes people like my cousin to spend hours on end in front of the computer screen, chatting with friends until 2 in the morning, when the time could have been better spent studying her lessons, having dinner with her family, or simply sleeping in preparation for the long school day ahead.
After all is said and done, the benefits and perils of social networking all boil down to proper usage. While social networking may allow even the softest of voices to be heard, it can also render humanity faceless and inhumane. The trick, then, lies in knowing how and when to reap the benefits this modern marvel provides, and steer clear of the traps it may hold beneath its surface.
Indeed, with social networking, it truly is a small world. But remember, just as the possibilities are endless, so, too, are the dangers. Be careful. Be safe.
Johanna Wileen Go, 18, is a first year medical technology student at the University of Santo Tomas.