Social Networking: A Matter of Informed Choice

Online Social Networking is the buzzword these days with almost everybody who is anybody (or a nobody in real life, for that matter) has an account in Orkut, Facebook, MySpace or any other major social networking sites, and in maximum probability- in a large number of them. As with any online phenomenon like instant messaging, e-commerce or online gaming- Social Networking also has its share of detractors counterbalancing the people who swear by it. To me, the supporters and detractors are both right and they are both wrong. As with any invention, it is a matter of informed choice by the user that leads to its optimal usage. Abuse of that invention can’t be really blamed on the inventor but on those who does not make informed choice to use that invention in a manner intended by the inventor.


Social Networking when used correctly can not only be a way to keep in touch with friends and make new ones with similar interests, it is also a great tool for business professionals, especially those in the small and medium business sectors to look for potential employees and expand their contact base. It is inexpensive, fast and fairly easy and in short gives you a great amount of power over one’s social interactions. However, with great power come great responsibilities. It is very easy to get caught in “the web” of endless possibilities and loose sight of the real world. Or even worse, finding out about the not-so-nice possibilities and abusing the system. Stories of jilted lovers stalking their ex-girlfriends to the point of suicide by the latter has begun to sprung up, leading many to question how “social” is the social networking phenomenon.


But this is where the question of informed choice comes up. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite for usage in construction, mining and quarrying industries, so roads can be built out of mountains faster. It is not really the fault of Alfred Nobel that the military generals came up with the “ingenious” idea of using dynamite for wreaking havoc in battlefields. It was an informed choice they made specifically to abuse the powers of the dynamite. The analogy works here as well. Orkut Büyükkökten can’t be blamed if fundamentalists use fake profile to attack people from other religions.


Yes, for technical purposes, we might blame Orkut for having a lax profile management system which enabled these people to register with the site in the first place. A counterargument to that would be, I might be a perfectly legitimate user till date and one fine day, my girlfriend decides to dump me and with that perfectly legitimate user id, I turn into a crazed stalker. It is impossible for a software or a web administrator to judge human emotions. They can only clean up the damage done and educated people to make informed choices. But in the end, it is us who end up choosing, and the chooser gets the final say on his or her choice.


Yes, people do misuse the social networking sites through a variety of ways like cyberstalking, hate crime and just plain wastage of company bandwidth and individual productivity. But most of the people out there do use them for maintaining old relationships, creating new ones and business networking. That is why the system is not only existent; it is growing as well, both in terms of users and in terms of number of entrants. It seems that most people are making informed choices in the intended direction of the social networking designers and rather than criticizing on what waste of internet and bandwidth space these sites are, people should be making informed choices based on that intended direction and their own and collective social welfare. Of course, that being said, I do not absolve the Social Networking sites of all blame. There is still a significant amount of work to be done by the network administrators in terms of security and privacy. But the bigger picture according to me is that existence of social networking sites is beneficial for the society as a whole, contrary to what many critics theorize.


Arijit Sen

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