We have all heard the positive aspects of such websites – they provide complete connectivity, bring people with common interests together, and create a platform to share your life with the rest of the world. However over all this brouhaha, if we ponder over the subject for a while, a few negatives of this new phenomenon come to light. Some key disadvantages of social networking or rather say risks associated with it are highlighted below.
Disadvantage of Social Networking for people
The balance of good and evil in the world needs to be maintained. Naturally when a far reaching medium such as the internet brings us social networking sites that spice up our lives a little, it also attracts the fractious few of society. Some of the things that could lead to potential social disaster are:
- The one potential risk of social networking cited most often is that of hacking. Incidents of profiles and accounts being hacked into are commonplace. While this could be restricted to simply playing a practical joke on a friend, it sometimes leads to the more serious misdemeanour of identity theft. This requires a low level of technical skill and is referred to as social engineering. This technique banks upon the psychological aspect of a ‘friend’ connection; the hacker uses common interests, background and professional information (all of which are posted on profiles) to extract sensitive information, like passwords and other details from the targeted individual and use them to create an alternate identity. Just using simple data like date of birth, name and location allows hackers to create fake social security cards, driver’s licenses and ID cards. Almost 15 million Americans are victims, either directly or indirectly, of identity theft.The surprising part is that even though people are adequately aware of the risks, only 40% of them manage their privacy settings (according to a survey conducted by PCWorld). Thus investing some time on securing your account against fraudsters and unknown individuals would prove to be beneficial in the long run.
- Another disadvantage of social networks is that it can help create something which does not exist or may not be as good as it is presented. For example, if you go to Amazon and see a product has 100 positive reviews while the other has only 20, you are likely to buy the one with hundred. This is how human psychology. So if 100 people have shared a post, you are likely to share it too while it may actually be a hoax or plain spam. You must have seen those ‘click like and see what happens’ posts on facebook. They get thousands of likes! The same illusion is created for personal lives of people. Just posting happy and party pictures do not mean one is actually happy!
- While social media can help people / companies create good image, it can also be used to tranish an image with false claims. A viral social media post talking how a product can cause problems can lead to huge losses to a firm. Till the time the company realises most of the damage is done.
- Another potential hazard of putting up pictures and videos on these websites is that they could be used for defamation. Reported cases include girls’ photos being photo-shopped and used in objectionable places. Also instances where people use social networking sites to abuse or defame anonymously are constantly reported. A Telegraph report outlines a case where cyber bullying was being used by students to intimidate teachers and staff.
- People recruited in high security professions like the defence services, national project engineers and scientist face an added disadvantage of hackers misusing any leaked classified information. Any unintended slip of information could have serious ramifications if it falls into the wrong hands. Infact people looking to get close to employees working in highly confidential industries use social media to profile and study them. This is not a movie or a TV serial story no more.
- All over the world social media websites are used to get up close and personal without even revealing the true identity. There have been numerous scandals in which people have gone as far as marrying each other and then realizing the truth. These relationships based on false information often lead to serious consequences. There have been so many cases in developing countries where people fall in love over social media website and end up being cheated financially, emotionally and physically.
There is an extensive range of mental and health problems known to be associated with spending too much time on social media. In addition to reducing productivity, creating distractions and increasing burnouts, they can cause some serious medical issues.
- Excessive time spent on social networks causes some individuals to experience withdrawal symptoms. They retreat from actual interaction with fellow humans and assume a virtual persona. Common signs are anxiety, distress, boredom and loneliness, much the same as a typical addiction! A study – ‘24 hours: Unplugged’ – conducted by the University of Maryland led to the conclusion that majority of students are “incredibly addicted to social media”.
- Regular recreational or social activities take a back seat when social networking is the prime agenda. Face to face interaction and socialising becomes something of a burden to an “addict”. In extreme cases interactions with close friends and family also stops and is substituted by virtual communication. Much furore was created about this very aspect due to a paper published by Dr. Aric Sigman, a fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, where he mentions that “a lack of face-to-face networking could alter the way genes work, upset immune responses, hormone levels, the function of arteries, and influence mental performance.”
- The lack of social interaction could result in people suffering from more stress related diseases and disorders than before. Dr. Aric Sigman in his paper points out the link between reduced human interaction time and problems like suffering a stroke, blood pressure, colds, dementia and cognitive problems.
Disadvantage of Social Networking for professionals and companies
The social network revolution has left no strata of our society untouched. Organisations face issues over lost productivity due to employees spending their time on social media. For firms that dole out payments by the hour, each hour of productivity lost through employees updating their profiles or adding a ‘Twitpic’, could prove costly. Most organisations these days do have set guidelines about the use of social media in the work place, however their implementation is a major hassle.
- Furthermore, the use of company resources in these activities is quite substantial. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc require a large bandwidth. Also, downloading pictures and videos streamed through these sites involves additional costs. Viruses and malware also pose a serious threat to the safety of the IT systems. Numerous applications available through Facebook are potential sources for these viruses.Multiple social networks, from Twitter and Google+ to Orkut and MySpace create an information overload that is difficult to manage. People juggling between these sites have trouble processing all the information making the whole exercise excessively taxing. A 2009 study by three Stanford University professors on cognitive control concluded that chronic media multi-taskers are more susceptible to distraction.
- Social networking at workplace can also cause confidentiality issues. An angry employee can use these sites to leak sensitive information. Sensitive information may also be leaked unintentionally to public causing financial and credibility loss for a company.
- Another potential disadvantage of social networking at workplace is that it can easily be cause strain between employees. For example employees of one group may comment about low level work of another group leading to tensions between them. Employees can also show dissent against their bosses or management on a public forum of social media which tarnishes image of the company. Immature emplyees can actually get into "social-media" fight which can spoil whole environment of a company.
- Company’s image may also get compromised if employees post bad comments about the company. Today prospective employees to prospective clients everyone is on one or another social media. A negative image (even if false) can hurt business prospects.
- Social networking websites have, at times, been used for the purpose of furthering political agendas. This has proved to be significant disadvantage of social networking at many places. China’s blocking of Twitter and YouTube a few months before the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, or the use of Facebook as a medium for instigating and spreading the message that led to riots in London, have been questioned. However these are subjective in nature and could be interpreted in a positive light as well.
Social media has brought to the world a common medium for thoughts, words and expression. However its correct and efficient usage is completely dependent on how it is managed. Being aware of the risks and vulnerabilities that we are exposed to through these media only empowers further to use them in a positive way. It is up to us to make sure that social networking does not turn into social dysfunction.