Katy Perry smirks in her music video “Last Friday Night,” while singing lyrics “Pictures of last night ended up online, I’m screwed, oh well.”
In the days before social networking sites the thought of advertising your illegal evening activities would be uncalled for. However today, underage drinkers bask in the glory of having photos of themselves on Facebook proudly clasping a red Solo cup or beer can.
But what about when those crazy photos show up during a job interview and prevent someone from pursuing his or her dream career? Who is to blame? Should we blame social network sites that provided the outlet for such personal information? Or should we understand that it’s simply the current state of our society?
When analyzing whether social networking sites negatively or positively changed our society, it’s difficult to choose one side. Some would argue positive, because it has provided a method of reconnecting with old friends and being in better communication with loved ones. Meanwhile, others argue that it has diminished all senses of privacy, and that it encourages cyberbullying and decreases face-to-face interactions. Although I agree with both sides, I believe social networking is simply a reflection of the direction of our ever-changing society. I believe the negative connotation associated with social networking sites is a result of improper use and poor judgment.
Users should first be aware that interacting with people online is completely different then speaking with someone in person. Online, you can portray a certain image. “I can reveal what I want to reveal in a virtual relationship,” Dr. Conrad Kanagy, associate professor of sociology said. “I can’t hide my identity in the same way in face-to-face relationships.”
A common problem with teenagers and young adults is that we believe online relationships have the same depth as in-person relationships. However, this is not correct. “It can be very detrimental if we assume it has the same value, the same strength, and the same intimacy as face-to-face relationships,” Kanagy said “If it becomes a substitute for those, we’re just being lazy or are hiding because of our own inhibitions, fears and anxieties about social relationships. Then it [social networking sites] becomes a real crutch.”
On Facebook, everyone posts photos or statii for gratification. We expect someone to “like” our status or comment on our new picture. “Because it’s a media, it is almost like a story,” Dr. Michele Lee Kozimor-King, associate professor of sociology said. “It’s very much like a soap opera, because everyone is living through everyone else’s lives. You want your life to be story worthy.” People have a tendency to embellish situations to make their life sound better or worse than it really is. We want to provoke emotions, either sympathy or excitement from our Facebook friends.
In regards to Facebook friends, many non-Facebook users are skeptical that someone could possibly have so many friends. People often strive to reach milestones in the number of friends they have, such as 500 or 1,000 Facebook friends. But are you really friends with all of them? In a study done by Matthew Brashears, a Cornell University sociologist, shows that there was already a decline in the overall number of close friends someone had, prior to Facebook. So perhaps Facebook is merely reflecting the rising trend of quantity over quality in friendships.
Therefore I have to agree with George Gerbner’s “The Reflection Hypothesis.” It states that social networking simply reflects the direction towards which our society was already headed. “We’ve always had gossip magazines,” Kozimor-King said. “We’ve always had shows like Entertainment Tonight. From television on, we’ve been moving in that direction. In regards to Facebook, if it weren’t something society was already struggling with or if the idea, for example of friendship being quantity vs. quality, didn’t have those roots already, Facebook never would have caught on.”
In some respects social networking has created our culture too. “Facebook reinforces what’s already out there in our culture,” Kozimor-King said. “And that’s why I think it’s so popular among your generation, who’s grown up with these types of social media regulating your behavior and relationships.” That’s why our generation believes it’s acceptable to post pictures of underage drinking.
Therefore, I believe it is not social networking that has negatively affected society, but rather how people choose to use it. People need to be careful what they say or post online, so they do not get caught in lies or hurt feelings. When you post something, you need to be prepared for the consequences, you’ll be surprised just how many people can see what you posted. Kozimor-King reminds users, “It’s social media, not interpersonal communication.” In reality, there is nothing private about your interactions with others via social networking sites.