Social Networks: The Menace

Social networks: constantly changing and ever growing, they are great hubs of electrical activity, and I’ll be the first to admit I’m hooked. I view my feeds as my own personal newsdesk constantly updating and tailor made to keep me in the know with my peers.

As I write, my Facebook account is heaving with an army of deeply tanned faces in holiday photos. Other regular fixtures include the couples announcing their love or recent demise and more recently the new job/internship updates screaming “OMG! LOVE MY JOB AT (Insert big corporation here)”. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others are a phenomenon which has come to define our generation. The idea that we could run both our social and professional lives from an online profile, on the bus, in our beds or even on the toilet is something that our grandparents would not have been able to imagine let alone believe. In fact most of our parents would find it difficult to understand the frustration which comes with trying to describe an event in less than one hundred and forty characters.

Weapons of Mass Distraction

The social network appeals to the gossipy side in all of us. It is after all completely normal to want to know what’s happening with those around us. Even if we like to pretend it is not the case, a good Facebook stalk allows us to see into the private lives of others without them ever knowing. We can be as sneaky as we like, and all the while maintain we could not care less. The appeal is clear, before if you wanted to see what someone wore to their sister’s wedding you would have to ask for photos, but now you are only a password and a click away from seeing not just them, but their sister, her husband and then his mother.

With Facebook being floated on the Stock Market, the expansion of the social network has never been met with more criticism. For starters Social Networks are full of phonies. Facebook have recently announced a clean up after estimating 8.7% of profiles- that’s nearly 83 million users could be fake and The Huffington Post predicts that Up To 72% Of Lady Gaga’s 30 million twitter Followers may not be real. Whilst most of these are probably made completely innocently, some people do use fake online profiles with malicious intent. Stories like Gemma Barker’s, who was able to seduce her female friends, then fool their families and police into believing she was a man started out with the creation of faux online profiles for her male personas. These kinds of stories only serve to remind us that when it comes to the internet we never really know who or what we are dealing with.

Add to this that some psychologists now believe that our use of social networks could be leading us to depression, arguing that whilst it’s easy to see that the life of a celebrity is carefully coordinated to show them in the best light, it’s much harder to bear this in mind when your pals status updates, friend counts and upbeat photos are constantly in front of you. It is unsurprising then, that many feel their own lives just do not measure up. Suddenly one could argue that social networking is doing us much more harm than good- and not simply by causing us to procrastinate.

The answer is of course, not to give up the social networks. We’re far too gone for that, besides for every horror story, there is another happier one- people finding love, or starting their dream jobs (Lily Allen famously started her career by uploading her music on Myspace). To use social networking effectively and gain the most out of it one has to be savvy, adopting a filter to tell what’s real and what’s not. The Social Network may define our generation, but it is amazing how many people seem to forget the basic rules of safety and dignity when using them. It’s common sense, don’t give information to someone you have never met, think carefully about your privacy settings and if you’re job hunting make sure your profile picture is not of you under a table clutching a bottle of whiskey.

But also remember that an online profile is simply a projection- a carefully orchestrated collection of photos and thoughts chosen by the user to portray them in the way they would most like others to see them. When someone posts pictures from their third holiday in as many months, take note that they haven’t been updating you about the boring hours of paperwork that led to it.  It may be hard to separate reality from the online but it is important not to be fooled by an online persona and not to use your own online persona to do the same to others.

Whilst it may seem that the grass is greener on the other side the chances are ‘Third Holiday Girl’ looking at your own online life and believing that things are just that little bit better for you.

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