Social Networking: Trend or Tyrant?

There was a time when people felt they could not survive without a pocket pager. Then, it was a cell phone. Next came the texting revolution and a need for cell phone services that were more friendly towards that medium. Smart phones have replaced simple cell phones and now we all use those to access social networking sites. You are barely considered a person unless you have a Facebook page or follow someone on Twitter.

In an attempt to keep our interest in social networking fresh, the sites that cater to that genre are constantly adding new features and reinventing themselves. Businesses now use social networking as much or more than individuals do. Most people would say that social networking makes life easier and all this sounds good, but there are some serious downsides to it all. One involves bullying.

Bullying has moved from the home, school and office to social networking sites. Those who have the time and desire to make life hell for others can easily do so by using these sites to reek havoc on their victims. They can even enlist the help of others by using false identities and lying about their intended prey. Although there has been a serious effort to limit the ability that these kinds of predators have to target people and bring those who already have to justice, the idea of 'policing' the web brings up the matter of how much right we all have to online privacy.

Online privacy was once considered as essential as the freedom to surf the web as we pleased, doing whatever we pleased, and looking for whatever we pleased. However, just as in real life, the need to maintain whatever social and legal standards each nation and community sets for its citizens has outweighed the concept of keeping the world wide web open to all expression, ideas and content. Will your online privacy be the next victim? It may have already become a lost freedom.

The National Security Agency recently admitted that they have been using secret technologies to track people, both at home and abroad, and to analyze their activities online via social networking. Police agencies around the world have also shown a serious interest in using social networking sites to keep an eye on potential or repeat offenders. All this in the name of doing good. Even some Internet companies have admitted to following the online activities of people through social networking. They claim this helps them to offer their customers more choices and better values.

An old preacher named Bob Jones once said, "It's never right, to do wrong, to do right." He lived in the days before political correctness, but his point was and remains absolutely on the mark. Violating the privacy of everyone to build a better online mousetrap or catch criminals is not a valid argument. New ideas do not come from spying on people, they arrive as a result of innovation and the need to fill a niche. And as far as catching evildoers goes, there have always been and always will be terrorists, anarchists and criminals among us. Chipping away at the freedoms of everyone will not lessen and has not lessened their numbers or decreased their activities.

If the recent rash of nationwide arrests of school teachers and athletic coaches on charges of everything from possessing child pornography to child molestation and rape has taught us anything, it is that removing the online freedoms and privacy of everyone to try and keep us all safe from sexual predators and criminals just doesn't work. Most of these alleged malefactors got away with whatever nefarious activities they were involved with online and offline for years without detection. In at least one case a police officer was arrested after child porn was accidently found on his computer at work. I guess the web police forgot to add police department computers to their list of places to look for bad guys. Haven't they ever heard of hiding in plain sight?

As helpful as social networking sites may appear to be, they seem to be creating as many problems as they are solving when it comes to staying in touch with friends and relatives. Apart from online feuds started by a thoughtless word or phrase, these sites have created a new way for people to cheat. A recent survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers shows that social networking sites are directly responsible for one out of every five divorces in the United States.

I'll be the first to admit that I have tried to find a number of old friends that I haven't seen or heard from in years through social networking sites. However, these contacts have not been for the purpose of re-igniting some romantic relationship I once had or to start a new one. I guess that is where personal choice, responsibility, morality and decency come into play.

I believe that cheaters will cheat, haters will hate and criminals will commit crimes with or without social networking sites to aid them. However, I also believe that no one should feel bullied into using social networking as a means of keeping up with friends and loved ones. We still have phones and the practice of meeting someone for breakfast, lunch or dinner just to catch up should never become a lost art.

Thousands of people end up deleting their social networking sites each year. They do this for a variety of reasons, but I suspect that a big one is because they feel that they have become a tool of social networking instead of these sites being a useful service for them. Like all things, moderation and consideration should be the order of the day when it comes to social networking.

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