Young People Ask

What Should I Know About Social Networking?​—Part 1

“I have friends in other countries, and the best way I can keep in touch with them is by social networking. I love being able to talk to them even though they’re far, far away.”​—Sue, 17. *

“I think social networking is a waste of time, a lazy person’s social life. Face-to-face interaction is the only way to maintain friendships.”​—Gregory, 19.

WHICH of the above statements comes closest to reflecting your view? Either way, one thing is certain: Social networking has become hugely popular. * Consider this: It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million users, 13 years for television to attract the same number, and 4 years for the Internet to do so. The social networking site Facebook gained 200 million users in one recent 12-month period!

Mark the following statement true or false:

Teenagers represent the largest segment of the population using social networking sites. ․․․․․ True ․․․․․ False

Answer: False. Nearly two thirds of the users of the most popular social network are 25 years of age or older. In 2009 the largest percentage of increase came from those over 55!

Nevertheless, millions of youths use social networking sites, and for some it has become the preferred method of communication. “I deactivated my account,” says a teen named Jessica, “but then I reactivated it because nobody would contact me by phone. It’s as if people forget about you if you’re not on a social network!”

What’s the appeal of social networking? The answer is simple: Humans are hardwired to interact with humans. And that’s what a social network is all about. Consider why many might be tempted to join one.

1. Convenience.

“Keeping up with your friends can be hard, but when they’re all on one site, it’s easy!”​—Leah, 20.

 “I can post a comment and it’s as if I’ve just e-mailed every one of my friends at the same time.”​—Kristine, 20.

2. Peer pressure.

“I’m always getting requests to join someone’s list of friends, but I don’t have an account, so I can’t.”​—Natalie, 22.

“When I tell people that I’ve chosen not to have an account, they look at me like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’”​—Eve, 18.

3. Media pressure.

“There’s this belief fostered by the media that if you don’t stay superconnected with people, you will have no friends. And having no friends is like having no life. So if you’re not social networking, you are nothing.”​—Katrina, 18.

4. School.

“My teachers use a social network. Some post messages to tell us when we have a quiz coming up. Or with math, for example, if I don’t understand something, I can post a message on my teacher’s Wall and he’ll help me solve the problem online.”​—Marina, 17.

5. Work.

“People looking for employment use a social network to connect with others. Sometimes this helps them find a job.”​—Amy, 20.

“I use a networking site for my work. It allows clients to see current graphic-design projects I’m working on.”​—David, 21.

Should you have a social networking account? If you live at home, that’s for your parents to decide. * (Proverbs 6:20) If your parents do not want you to have an account, you should comply with their wishes.​—Ephesians 6:1.

On the other hand, some parents do allow their mature children to use a social networking site​—and they supervise their use of it. If that’s true of your parents, are they invading your privacy by doing so? Not at all! A social network is a powerful tool, and your parents are rightly concerned about how you use it. The fact is, social networking​—like virtually any use of the Internet—​has its dangers. If your parents allow you to have a social networking account, how can you avoid those dangers?

Safe “Driving”

In some ways, using the Internet can be compared to driving a car. As you’ve probably noticed, not all who have a license are responsible drivers. In fact, many people have got into horrific accidents because of their carelessness or neglect.

It’s similar with people who use the Internet. Some “drive” responsibly; others recklessly. If your parents have allowed you to have a social networking account, they are trusting you to navigate a particularly tricky part of cyberspace. So, what type of “driver” have you shown yourself to be? Have you demonstrated that you “safeguard practical wisdom and thinking ability”?​—Proverbs 3:21.

In this article we will now discuss two aspects of social networking that deserve your serious consideration​—your privacy and your time. The “Young People Ask” article in the next issue of Awake! will discuss your reputation and your friendships.

 YOUR PRIVACY

Privacy might be the last thing on your mind when it comes to a social network. After all, isn’t the whole idea to reach out to people? Nevertheless, not taking precautions can lead to disaster.

To illustrate, suppose you had in your possession a large amount of cash. Would you display it for everyone to see as you walked down a public street with your friends? That would be foolish​—you’d be asking to be robbed! If you’re smart, you’ll hide your cash where it can’t be seen.

Think of your personal information as your cash. With that in mind, look at the list below and check off the items that you would not feel comfortable advertising to a complete stranger.

․․․․․ my home address

․․․․․ my e-mail address

․․․․․ where I attend school

․․․․․ the times when I am at home

․․․․․ the times when nobody is at home

․․․․․ my photos

․․․․․ my viewpoints

․․․․․ my likes and interests

Even if you’re the world’s greatest extrovert, likely you’d agree that there are at least some things on the above list that shouldn’t be revealed to just anyone. But many young people​—and adults—​have unwittingly shared such details with strangers! How can you avoid such a pitfall?

If your parents allow you to use a social network at all, you need to be thoroughly familiar with its privacy settings​—and use them. Don’t leave it up to the networking site to protect your privacy. The fact is, the default settings it provides may allow more people to see and comment on your page than you may realize. That’s one reason why a girl named Allison customized her settings so that only her close circle of friends could see her posts. “Some of my friends had friends that I didn’t know,” she says, “and I didn’t want those strangers reading about me.”

Even if you communicate only with your close friends, you need to be careful. “You can become addicted to getting comments from your friends,” says 21-year-old Corrine, “so you start putting more information about yourself out there than you should.”

Always remember that when it comes to the Internet, “privacy” is merely a relative term. Why? “Large Web sites back up their databases,” points out Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe in her book CyberSafe, adding: “What we put on cyberspace never truly goes away. We have to consider it permanent because there is likely a copy somewhere; to think otherwise is foolish.”

YOUR TIME

Not only your privacy but also your time can be compared to a large amount of cash. In a sense, then, you need to budget your time. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) And that’s one of the greatest challenges when it comes to any use of the Internet, including social networking. *

“So often I have said, ‘I am going to get on it for just a minute.’ An hour later, I’m still online.”​—Amanda, 18.

“I was addicted. Every time I got home from school, I would spend hours checking what some  people said about my posts and looking at their posts.​—Cara, 16.

“I could access the site on my phone, so I’d look at it on my way to school, at school, and on my way home from school. Then, after I got home, I’d go on the computer. I knew I was addicted, but I didn’t want to stop!”​—Rianne, 17.

If your parents let you use a social networking site, think about how much time would be reasonable to spend on it each day. Then monitor yourself. For a month, keep track of how much time you spend on a social networking site and see if you’re keeping within the limits you set. Remember, your time is like your money. So don’t let a social network “bankrupt” you. After all, there are things in life that are more important!​—Ephesians 5:15, 16; Philippians 1:10.

Some youths have taken steps to make sure that they stay in control of their time. For example, consider the following:

“I deactivated my account, and I had heaps of time. I felt free! Recently, I reactivated my account, but I have complete control. I don’t check it for days at a time. Occasionally I even forget about it. If my social networking account becomes a problem again, I’ll just deactivate my account.”​—Allison, 19.

“I have taken ‘networking breaks,’ where I deactivate my account for a couple of months and then reactivate it later. I do that whenever I realize that I’ve been spending too much time with it. Now I don’t feel as attached to it as I used to. I’ll use it for a purpose, but then I’m done.”​—Anne, 22.

The Bottom Line

There’s another factor about social networks that you need to consider. To help you grasp this aspect, put a ✔ next to the option that you feel best applies.

A social networking site is primarily . . .

(A) ․․․․․ a business.

(B) ․․․․․ a social club.

(C) ․․․․․ a form of entertainment.

The correct answer? Believe it or not, it’s Option A. First and foremost, a social network is a business. Its objective is to make a profit, mainly through advertising. And to advertisers, the value of the network increases as more people join and those members’ posts are more widely shared. After all, the more time you or anyone spends networking, the more ads will be viewed.

Knowing that helps you to realize that a social network really has little to lose​—and advertisers have much to gain—​if you share your information too widely or if you spend too much time online. By all means, then, if you use a social network at all, protect your privacy and monitor the amount of time you spend on it.

IN THE NEXT “YOUNG PEOPLE ASK” . . .

Social networking can affect your reputation and your friendships. Find out how.

More articles from the “Young People Ask” series can be found at the Web site www.watchtower.org/​ype

[Footnotes]

^ par. 3 Names in this article have been changed.

^ par. 5 A social network is a Web site that allows those who have an account to communicate with a selected group of friends.

^ par. 24 Awake! neither endorses nor condemns any particular networking site. Christians should be sure that their use of the Internet does not violate Bible principles.​—1 Timothy 1:5, 19.

^ par. 47 For more information, see “Young People Ask . . . Am I Addicted to Electronic Media?” in the January 2011 Awake! Note especially the box on page 26, “I Was a Social-Networking-Site Addict.”

[Blurb on page 25]

It took 38 years for radio to reach 50 million people

[Blurb on page 25]

In just 1 recent year, the social networking site Facebook signed on more than 200 million users

[Box on page 27]

WHY NOT ASK YOUR PARENTS?

Discuss online-privacy issues with your parents. Which things are best kept private, and why? What information could be dangerous if posted on any part of the Internet? Also, ask your parents for advice on how you can balance online interaction with face-to-face communication. What adjustments, if any, do they recommend?

[Picture on page 26]

Your activities on a social network may not be as private as you think

[Picture on page 27]

Time is like money. If you spend it all in one place, you won’t have enough left when you need it