On Social Networking

February 15, 2010
Amanda comes home from school, weary and tense after another busy day. She kicks off her shoes, but the pressing weight of her backpack into her spine is a reminder that she still has homework to complete. Today her assignments include an English paper to type. Opening her laptop, Amanda clicks on the Internet Explorer icon to do some research for her assignment, but finds herself going to the popular social networking website Facebook. Soon she’s caught up in commenting on her friends’ photos, and gossiping via private chat. Before long, it’s almost five o’clock and none of Amanda’s homework has been started, let alone completed. This mindless, subconscious fascination doesn’t only affect Amanda, but teenagers and adults who use social networks everywhere. Sometimes, the mindlessness and thoughtlessness extends to the point where people, teens in particular, don’t think about what it is they are doing on these websites. Everything posted online is permanent, and can always be recalled even if you “delete” them, which is something that not many teens realize.

The first, and most important, fact that affects this issue is that everything is permanent. Even though many websites offer a handy “delete this post” button, the record of what you wrote remains forever. Steve Rothberg, the creator of a career website, states his opinion in his wise summation: “Posting information on-line is like getting a tattoo. There's nothing inherently wrong with posting information on-line or getting a tattoo, but in both cases you need to be prepared for it to be out there forever and for people to see it whom you may not want to see it. If you're not prepared to live with that, then don't do it.” He advises students not to post things they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with their grandmother. Teenagers, however, often disregard words of wisdom such as these, either unaware or disregarding the fact that even if you delete, the digital imprint is there forever. Once you upload something online, it can never go away, though teenagers often post images or comments that display such a lack of common sense.

One such thing which people, teenagers and adults alike, must censor is the blatant posting of pictures which may portray you in a less-than-appropriate mood or environment. Last year, my biology teacher told us about how she was “friending” students on her newly-created Facebook account, and expressed her dismay at some of the images she saw. “Why would you want to post photos of yourself smoking a joint or getting wasted?” she asked. “Those are illegal activities, especially for minors, and as a teacher viewing it…well let’s just say that if an issue arises concerning grades, I may not be so willing to round in your favour.” Though her attitude was half-joking, indecent, alcohol or drug related images can be recalled by future college administrative officers or employers, and it doesn’t exactly raise their opinions of you. Countless reputations have been sullied by this thoughtless posting of inappropriate photos, forgetting that “everything they say online is a public postcard,” as San Francisco parent Michael Wise said. “Yet teens have always done silly or stupid things, but in the past, folks could just burn the negatives.” Today, whatever is broadcast online is there to remain.

The other concern of online posting is in the comments which are so readily available for everyone to view. This usually arises in the form of gossip or hurtful statements, but what it truly is is merely another form of cyber bullying, a cruel act which has admittedly decreased in the media, but never ceased to affect students everywhere. who can forget the story of Megan Meier, the girl who was bullied via MySpace and was driven to the point of suicide? While not everyone who has been teased online has killed themselves, words hurt. On Facebook, for example, there is an application known as the “Honesty Box” in which users can post anonymous comments to their friends. Sometimes, these comments are demeaning and rude, and end up hurting people’s feelings. Other times, this occurs in the open and can damage relationships. This is how rumors and gossip spread, and this is how friendships break. The urge to gossip really is part of human nature, but we often don’t stop and reflect what it is we are saying. And especially if we are saying it online, where solid proof is there to never be removed.

Amanda is not the only teenager who enjoys social networking, and in careful moderation it is not a bad thing, Many teens can in fact use street smarts online and make wise decisions. There are, on the other hand, far too many who do not and may end up suffering for that later in life. As lawyer Janet Judge simply puts it, these same basic rules apply for “the kind of pictures that you are posting and the kind of things that you are writing.” She expresses her concern in that students who do not follow these simple guidelines may have things coming back to haunt them later in life when trying to apply for college or a job. Teenagers, like Amanda, need to know when to regulate in both time and content. Maybe if tomorrow, she doesn’t immediately go online when she comes home from school, it’s a little step in the right direction.

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