Are social networking sites compromising our future?

8 February 2010

Yes – Mari Shibata

I am a human being, who loves the idea of contact with other human beings regardless of my relationship with them.

Whether in a public or private space, with the help of a physical and emotional aid, one is able to pick up more information about the other person. It is a kind of pleasure that cannot be developed from a computer screen.

Those who know me well will immediately point out that most of my friends live in different colleges and study different subjects. Their career interests vary and are from various different parts of the world.

I basically don’t like the idea of sticking to one group in a set space. With this mindset, it’s normal to reach out to social networking devices – such as Facebook – to keep in touch with those who you’ve met along the way.

It is easy to depend on such devices to maintain that contact despite the varying degrees of distance, which is exactly why they are a threat. However, pressing ‘like’ on someone’s Facebook status will immediately remove the opportunity to talk about the matter in real life.

As a musician, I may publish an event through social networking websites but it is always so much more effective to mention it in person.

To those who you don’t see often because of the distance, social networking sites are useful to make these announcements but as the term ‘networking’ implies, these messages are less personal and will not embody the same meaning as when they are said in person.

These websites can also create misconceptions about somebody. Just because you appear in photographs with one person a lot that may not mean that you are best friends with that person; you may have just taken lots of photographs on that day because you actually haven’t seen each other for months.

The new privacy settings allow us to hide photos we don’t want others to see, which means that we can hide many aspects of ourselves quite easily.

That in itself proves the argument that social networking sites only allows people to judge based on things that are only on the surface and that it is better to see them in person.

A misunderstanding can also develop if you are too dependent on social networking sites; it could loose your level of judgement of the friendships that you are pursuing.

One example is a break-up from a serious relationship of mine approximately six months ago now, for which the final trigger of the break up was from a comment that I made on my ex-boyfriend’s Facebook status.

During the two months for which I was enrolling on an internship on the other side of the globe, the ex-boyfriend’s parents had an opportunity to brainwash him with their idea that he should only marry a “British, Christian and Tory girl” and so he should watch out for this “strong, opinionated oriental girl”. So when I made a joke on his Facebook status, for once he took it directly as an insult from this “opinionated oriental girl” and this became his reason for ending a serious relationship.

Had we not relied on Facebook, his level of judging the relationship would have been different and the misunderstanding behind the joke that I had made could have been easily avoided.

To conclude, communication is important but don’t rely on social networking sites; pick up a mobile phone and chat to somebody for two minutes instead if you can’t see them in person.

No – Jen Mills

I have to admit that Facebook has a lot to answer for.

I don’t think the world particularly needed to see, for example, a picture of my brother with blood dribbling from his mouth after knocking out a tooth racing to the kebab shop.

Last week, TCS reported on an Oxford study that told us what we probably all knew already:  humans aren’t designed to have thousands of friends. In fact, we are incapable of juggling more than 150. No matter how many friends you can display on your list, I regret to inform you that this is not an accurate measure of your social standing.

Despite this, social networking sites can also be a positive thing.  Nobody is suggesting that every friend in your list should be someone you can imagine giving a speech at your wedding. Facebook is great for this very reason – it lets you stay in touch with people that you otherwise might not be speaking to at all.

Virtual communication is never going to replace communication in the physical world. You can’t make someone a mug of tea online, you would find it very difficult to give someone a hug, and I doubt that anyone’s idea of a romantic proposal would be posted on a Facebook wall.

Rather than destroying our communication skills, social networking sites are just giving us more options.

Before I started at Cambridge, I shared a room with an Indonesian girl for six months, and we are still in contact every week. Calling Indonesia is expensive and the line is often fuzzy, so we send each other messages on Facebook.  Equally, I’ve met plenty of people who I would be happy to see again but don’t care enough about to actively phone them up.

Social networking is also a great tool for campaigning. I’ve seen countless pages set up to raise money; Facebook is probably directly responsible for millions of pounds donated to charity. We also have Facebook to thank for the fact that Simon Cowell didn’t get his Christmas number one last year.

Although I find it worrying that people can be sacked for photos that appear on Facebook, this isn’t an issue that is confined to social networking sites. Our public and private lives are blurred as never before. One of our very own Cantabridgians learnt this the hard way after the 2008 Wyvern’s Garden Party, when pictures of her were splashed across the tabloid press after she assaulted a security guard having lost a jelly wrestling contest. She subsequently lost her place to study a postgraduate degree at Oxford.

At least on Facebook, you know which photos have been tagged of you and have some degree of control over them. Google has admitted that it keeps records of every search made. If we’re going to complain about information being stored on Facebook, why not just ban the internet? If we want to enjoy the benefits of being able to search libraries full of information in seconds, we have to accept that sometimes this information might also involve ourselves.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to protect our privacy. One obvious way for Facebook to improve their service could be to start a system whereby users can approve tags before they appear on their profile.

Sharing photos and videos is, however, a resource that we should value. We are able to access a record of memories that we may not appreciate now, but probably will when we’re knocking on the doors of middle age.

It’s up to you whether you show your kids the photo of you with sick on yourself, passed out in a corner of Kambar dressed as a Pokemon.