By Miesha Glover
Social networking is turning into a youth dreamland. According to a press release on comscore.com , Facebook took over the global lead among social networking sites in April 2008. Some other sites, including Facebook, Myspace, and Tagged, give us a chance to stay connected and talk to friends— but at what cost?
In many situations, these sites are being used in inappropriate ways and to remedy that, companies that host them, should implement an age requirement that can be enforced.Case in point— last year, an 18-year-old Wisconsin man was allegedly charged with using Facebook.com to exhort sex from boys by threatening to expose nude pictures of them he obtained by pretending to be girls on the site. This situation shows how vulnerable young people really are and how they expose themselves to becoming friends with anybody without knowing the whole story.
According to Pip1.com, which collects hundreds of millions of profiles from social networking sites, women who visit these sites tend to be younger, while men tend to be older. At the same time, it appears that the people visiting social networking sites are becoming younger and younger. But how young and how old a person is may be hard to measure on the Internet. People lie about their ages. Sometimes, those who want to be older lie and those who want to be younger do not tell the truth. A young person who wants to remain safe should not lie and should think that if you have to lie, you probably should not be on the site.
Another problem is the inappropriate use of language and pictures by teens. Many of these sites have links that you can click on to report inappropriate behavior. However, from my experience, these links are pointless and when I reported a picture which I felt was inappropriate, nothing happened and the picture remained on the site for at least a couple of weeks until the person who posted the image finally changed the picture.
Cyber bullying poses another problem. A discussion on dcspost.com indicated that 32% of teens on the Internet are victims of Internet bullying. Teens who share their identities and thoughts on social networking sites are more likely to be targets than are those who do not use social networking sites according to makeadifferecneforkids. com. Also on this site are different stories about teens that have died or committed suicide due to cyber bullying.
Addressing suicides which occur as a result of social networking sites, Pope Benedict XVI, who has more than 27,000 fans of his own on Facebook, said while some sites foster friendships and understanding, “obsessive virtual socializing can isolate people from real interaction and deepen the digital divide by excluding those already marginalized.”
Providing direction for parents and their children, Enough.org, helps teach the safest way to browse the Internet. The organization has setup ‘Rules and Tools’ which implements safety and software to protect children online. Some suggestions include keeping the lines of communication open while experts suggest parents establish an atmosphere of trust and work to supervise computer use and other Internet devices. Parents are also advised to keep their children’s computers in an open area of the home and protect personal information posted online. Using privacy settings to restrict and limit access as to who can view profiles and searching blog sites other children visit to see what information their own children are posting, are also good ideas. Other precautions include discouraging the use of webcams, knowing the child’s online activities and friends, instructing the child never to plan a face-to-face meeting, and teaching children to never open, read or respond to messages from a cyberbully. By establishing online rules and an agreement with children about Internet use at home and outside the home, parents can prevent future problems.While the Internet is here to stay and people will likely continue to rely on it, it’s going to take a combination of everyone working together, parents, business and the young people who use it to help keep surfing the Net safe.