What are the positive and negative implications of the emergence of social networkings, according to those who follow the issue?

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The reason the links below include eNotes’ Facebook and Twitter accounts is to highlight the prevalence of social networking as a means of communication in the 21st Century.  Social networking, especially with respect to Facebook and Twitter, have emerged as the most significant forms of communication and social interaction in the world.  As with any “revolution” of sorts, there are both positive and negative implications of the growing importance of social networking to society.  The most important positive implications are unrelated to the United States per se, and involve the vastly greater difficulties dictatorial governments abroad have in containing the free-flow of information within and across their borders.  The advent of inexpensive cell phones and the roles of social networking sites have revolutionized the manner in which anti-government opponents can communicate and coordinate with each other.  In countries like Iran and Egypt, revolts against autocratic regimes involved extensive use of social networking sites to both coordinate actions within those countries, to communicate important information with regard to the movement of government security forces, and to communicate information on events to the outside world.  The internet began the process of facilitating a greatly expanded flow of information across borders; social networking sites enhanced that flow of information.

In a more benign or less controversial context, social networking has enabled people to reengage with long-lost friends and to stay in contact with organizations and individuals with whom they otherwise might not make an effort to communicate.  That, after all, is the whole point of Facebook.  Twitter, on the other hand, has facilitated the flow of “off-the-cuff” commentary that has proven both beneficial and detrimental to individuals whose discipline within the realm of filtering one’s initial thoughts, or self-censorship, has proven problematic. 

The negative ramifications of social networking for society are usually discussed in terms of the role of Facebook and other sites in substituting time spent physically interacting with the world with time spent in front of a computer staring at a screen while impersonally interacting with other people through cyberspace.  Whether or how valid a concern this is is debatable.  A professor of communication studies at the University of Chicago who studies the social implications of digital media has noted the following:

“On some level, people have always been concerned when new technology replaces old technology.  Believe or not, you can find articles from the early 1900s about how the telegraph was going to bring an end to civil society, cause children to run wild and precipitate a breakdown in interpersonal interactions . . . There is very little evidence to suggest that the telegraph had any of those effects, and I think the same will prove true for the Internet and digital media . . .(F)undamentally, communication practices and the ways in which we relate to one another will stay the same.” [www.northeastern.edu/news/2012/10/3qs-the-social-impact-of-social-networks/]

To the extent that students of the implications of social networking view long-term effects on interpersonal communications as the principle negative aspect of the issue, then the above quote may prove prescient in countering commonly-held perceptions.

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