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The Dangers of Social Networking

Elizabeth Zarkos

Chapman University EDUC 785

Running Head: THE DANGERS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING July 27, 2011 The internet is a wondrous environment wherein people can access information on almost anything they may imagine (and things they may not have conceived possible). With close to 500,000 people in the U.S. alone with internet access (U.S. Census, 2009), the internet can connect individuals in ways never previously thought possible. One of the ways individuals can connect is through social networking sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, and Google+. Even facing controversy with security issues, Facebook alone has over 750 million active users (Facebook, 2011). Individuals on these sites can connect both to people they have previously met, as well as individuals that they have never seen or spoken with before. A “Friend” button intimates that these individuals, whether the user has had previous contact with them or not, are their friends. Some users have hundreds or thousands of friends, to the point that Facebook has limited sites to having no more than 5,000 “friends.” This becomes difficult to surmise when we look at the average number of relationships a person can keep up in their daily life. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar notes that individuals can only have a meaningful relationship with approximately 150 people. Anything above that number, he states, and people become strangers (Gladwell, 2002). For those individuals with hundreds and even thousands of friends, however, that means that people are not connected to friends, but to virtual strangers who comment and judge on random remarks that a user might decide to make public. Does having more virtual friends, however, give an individual more social satisfaction? This paper intends to prove that the answer to that question is a resounding “no,” and will show that those individuals who try to find meaningful social relationships through social networking sites can actually become more depressed, despondent and have a lower self-


Running Head: THE DANGERS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING esteem than those individuals who use social networks merely as an extension of physical relationships, or those in real life (IRL). Just-Consequentialist Theory The difficulty with trying to regulate the internet is that it is (a) virtually impossible to do so, and (b) how does one determine what content is appropriate for some individuals and not others? We do not want to regulate something that can cause individuals greater freedoms, and yet we also do not want to allow something that can be potentially dangerous to continue to harm people as well. In Moor’s Just-Consequentialist Theory (Travani, 2011), he expresses that if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, one must first deliberate impartially, then make a decision as to what action to take. By deliberating impartially, an individual must think about how the “policy is regarded as a rule governing the situation without consideration to the particular individuals who happen to be involved” (p. 69). Instead of looking at the individuals, one must look directly at the policy and see how it may be interpreted for future use (Travani, 2011). If social networking sites are, indeed, dangerous for some users, then it would seem that there should be a rule against them. If, however, social networking sites are not dangerous for all users, and some users actually benefit from these sites, then taking these sites down, therefore, may not only harm some users, but may create a policy wherein anything potentially dangerous for a small population will be deemed illegal for the masses. The goal of helping to protect those who may be in danger of feeling depressed or even suicidal is trumped over the need to keep from policing everything in the world; certainly there are individuals who have abnormal addictions to various things that many deem perfectly safe for the “normal” user.


Running Head: THE DANGERS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING We have not the resources nor do we have the authority to police the internet, and certainly there are enough users on social networking sites currently to assume that doing so may cause a great distress to the users. Therefore, the best option is to publicize the dangers that may be potentially caused by social networking so that individuals may make a more informed choice about their social networking decisions, as well as understand why they may not feel socially gratified after using the sites. Parents should be informed of potential dangers on social networking sites, as well. While many may know to warn their children not to communicate with strangers, they may not be aware that even a casual use of social networking may be more dangerous for individuals who are naturally introverted or who have issues communicating face-to-face. While this will most likely not stop all of the abuses and addictions individuals may have to the internet, for those who are suffering from depression or loneliness may find that reaching out to “friends� on the internet can actually cause them more harm than good. For those who choose to do it, anyway, well, that is their decision to make. Argument Premise One: Individuals who have poor social skills may look to the internet for social gratification. Premise Two: Social networking sites do not provide the same social gratification that reallife relationships can grant. Premise Three: Instead of leaving social networking sites to increase their happiness, users increase the time on their social networks instead. Conclusion: Social networking sites can be detrimental to the well-being of those who look to them for social gratification and should be monitored as such.


Running Head: THE DANGERS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING Facebook Depression On Facebook, users can post a comment on their “wall” that either their friends or the entire Facebook community can read and comment back. There is also a “like” button that allows users to give commentary on a subject or note without having to respond in writing. Users who do not time or know how to respond might use the button in order to show support for the individual. One of the dangers of the “like” button is that there is no corresponding “dislike” button for individuals to weigh on a posting that is negative, which can lead to no comments back for the user, making the user feel isolated and forgotten. For example, if someone posts that their cat was run over by a car, it would seem heartless to click a “like” button for the post. If the individual does not know how to help the person grieve for their cat, or is uncomfortable with the topic, then that person might not post anything at all. The user whose cat has passed, therefore, instead of feeling supported by friends who may be of help through a difficult time, may feel that no one cares, escalating their feelings of depression. Another aspect of Facebook depression stems from the idea that many individuals post their happiest moments on their wall. For example, an individual may post a picture of their time camping, at Disneyland, at a concert, or with their friends. These posts only show a shadow of the individual’s real life, but their “friends” in seeing them may feel that the individual is leading a wonderful, happy, care-free existence, and may grow despondent that their life is not as fulfilling. Essentially, it is akin to looking through a person’s photo album and believing that those snapshots are the entirety of the individual, as opposed to merely an essence. Copeland (2011) notes that the lack of self-satisfaction increases when looking at gender differences; while men often share facts on their Facebook page, women use the social site to communicate. This difference in how Facebook is specifically used can lead women to


Running Head: THE DANGERS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING feeling more depressed; when looking at the pages of their friends and acquaintances, the women grow despondent because they believe that others have a much better and easier life (Copeland, 2011). Compulsive Internet Users In a 2009 study, Van der Aa, et al, found that internet use, even daily internet use, could not be directly related to feelings of loneliness and depression. On the contrary, for some users, daily internet use made them feel positive and gave them personal satisfaction. The number of hours on the computer, however, did show a direct correlation between internet use, specifically compulsive internet use (CIU), and loneliness amongst adolescents. CIU is characterized by five traits: (1) Continuation of Internet use despite the intention to stop. (2) Internet use dominating the adolescent’s cognitions and behaviors. (3) The experience of unpleasant emotions when Internet use is impossible. (4) Using the Internet to escape from negative feelings. (5) Internet use is resulting in conflict with others or with oneself. (p. 766) The internet in this case becomes a physical addition to the user, and the user feels poorly when not on-line. This feeling was constant amongst all groups of adolescents; when moderate internet use crossed to CIU, both extroverted and introverted adolescents reported feeling more depressed. Although CIU individuals may all feel depressed, the feelings of loneliness, low selfesteem and depression, were more acute within those who already had low self-esteem and felt lonely and depressed. Essentially, using the internet only heightened those feelings of depression, and van der Aa, et al, states that the possibility of increased depression was


Running Head: THE DANGERS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING possible. The individuals, feeling depressed and lonely, without friends or social ties in the physical realm, may continue to seek out relationships on-line, thus increasing their internet use. Daily internet use may then, in turn, escalate to CIU, causing the user even greater feelings of depression and loneliness. The more the individual tries to curb their depression through internet use, the greater the feelings of depression. Introverted individuals are more likely than extroverts in falling into this self-fulfilling prophecy (van der Aa, et al, 2009). Types of Internet Users Weiser (2001) did not merely look at the number of hours spent on the internet, but focused also on how the purpose of the user in using the internet. He divided up the use between Goods-and-Information Acquisition (GIA) and Socio-Affective Regulation (SAR). GIA users are those who use the internet for practical purposes, including gathering information and to purchase items. SAR users, however, rely on the internet to provide social connections to the world. Focusing their efforts on increasing social gratification, these users continue to spend more and more time on the internet, searching for something that will make them feel satisfied. The GIA users, not having the same needs for social integration as the SAR users, actually increased their happiness from their internet use, whereas the SAR users, in contrast, grew more depressed Weiser surmises that the GIA users, who have physical ties to the community, are less likely to put their current relationships in jeopardy. The SAR users, however, do not have such ties, and so are more likely to seek out on-line relationships, and are more apt to break their community ties. Weiser argues that the two different users, GIA and SAR, are a main cause for the conflict in the studies regarding internet use; trying to compare the two groups is akin to comparing apples and oranges. While both groups use the internet, they use it in a very different manner. Instead of focusing on merely hours on the internet, or


Running Head: THE DANGERS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING sites visited, we should be focusing on the purpose behind using the internet to determine who is at higher risk for depression and social isolation. For it is not so much the time spent on the internet that causes social isolation, it is social isolation that, in turn, causes greater social isolation; “Social integration, of course, had a strong causal influence on psychological wellbeing. Thus, it appears that social or affiliative use of the Internet may have a negative effect on psychological well-being by first reducing social connectivity, whereas practical use of the Internet (i.e., GIA) may actually have a beneficial effect on psychological well- being by first increasing social connectivityâ€? (p. 738). Essentially, the internet is not a scary tool that must be hidden or regulated; like any tool, it is only dangerous when it is in the hands of the user. Conclusion The internet is not bad. It is not evil. By allowing information to be readily accessible to individuals all over the world, communication and knowledge is literally at our fingertips. As we become more comfortable with using the internet, it is possible that we will continue to increase our usage time, and will integrate its technology more readily into our daily use. We may become more reliant on it for certain uses, but there is one use that we should take great care in regulating; social gratification. Humans are a social creature, and desiring social interactions are part of our general makeup. A society is more able to defend itself against intruders or gather enough food to live through a drought than an individual would be able to alone. Unfortunately, not all people are born with the same social gifts, and those who are more introverted or who have difficulties socializing with others may find themselves more attracted to social networking sites. These sites allow users to create a façade that does not embarrass the user, for the user is literally hidden behind an avatar, unable to be judged by peers. The danger of these sites, however, is that they are not socially gratifying, and so


Running Head: THE DANGERS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING instead of choosing to find IRL friends, and dealing with the awkwardness that is associated with such, the individual spends more and more time on the social networking sites, trying to fill that void that grows the longer the individual remains on the internet. The larger the void, the longer the person spends on-line, until the vicious cycle finally breaks down. Either the individual stops using the internet, which is unlikely as it has now become an addiction, or the person is caught up in a severe depression that may lead to suicidal thoughts. There really are few exceptions as the user cannot gain the social satisfaction for which they are seeking on the internet, and the lack of social skills makes it difficult for the user to create a healthy balance while using the internet. While studies called for “future study� of this phenomenon, the technology is so new that no published study could be found that specifically targets the spiral that the SAR users go through while trying to find satisfying relationships on-line. While CIU has been addressed, especially with those users who have found themselves addicted to chat-rooms and IRC, I could not find studies that dealt with social networks such as Facebook specifically. Because Facebook, My Space and Google+ users are not communicating in real-time, such as IRC, the social relationship is different, and must be studied as a separate entity. As noted previously, there must be a warning on the social networking sites and to parents, teachers and psychiatrists to warn of dangers of certain individuals who may use social networking sites for the purpose of increasing their social gratification. While social networking sites cannot be blamed for creating the original feelings of depression or low selfesteem, being able to find a way to decrease these feelings that are created because of social networking sites is a way to help the individual and hopefully avoid future issues in the future.



References Copeland, L. (2011). The Anti-Social Network: by helping other people look happy, facebook is making us sad. Retrieved from: . Elzingre, L. (2011). Facebook Depression: how is this possible? Retrieved from:,0 Facebook. (2011). Timeline. Retrieved from: Gladwell, M. (2002). The Tipping Point. Little, Brown and Company. New York, New York. U. S. Census. (2009). Reported Internet Usage for Individuals 3 Years and Older, by Selected Characteristics: 2009. Retrieved from: van der Aa, N., Overbeek, G., Engels, R. E., Scholte, R. J., Meerkerk, G., & Van den Eijnden, R. M. (2009). Daily and Compulsive Internet Use and Well-Being in Adolescence: A Diathesis-Stress Model Based on Big Five Personality Traits. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38(6), 765-776. Weiser, E. B. (2001). The Functions of Internet Use and Their Social and Psychological


Running Head: THE DANGERS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING Consequences. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 4(6), 723-743. doi:10.1089/109493101753376678


Zarkos- The Dangers of Social Networking