Not All Social Networks are Created Equal

The popularity of micro-blogging sites is bringing a new wave of changes to how the Internet is used to disperse information. People are communicating in 140 characters at a time – sharing how they are feeling, issues they are pondering, problems they are facing – and doing so succinctly in just a few words at a time.

Sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace started out by simply providing a place where one could post a few words to describe their mood, interests or current activities. But as people starting using these mediums, they changed the usage to create a “global conversation” where questions are posed, advice is offered, and brainstorming occurs.

With this new communication mechanism comes some new dangers that parents need to be aware of. Not all social-networking sites are created equal, and each site serves not only a different audience, but a different intent as well. For example, although often mentioned together, Facebook and Twitter serve almost completely opposite purposes. Facebook is intended to help you keep in touch, or get back in touch, with people you already know in the physical world. In order to read each others updates, you need to acknowledge that you know the other person. While nothing posted on the Internet is ever private, there is a certain (albeit extremely small) expectation of privacy – only those to whom you grant access can read your updates.

Twitter, on the other hand, is intended to make new friends and associates. Every ‘tweet’ sent to twitter is available for anyone else to read – whether you know them or not. Anyone can respond to your tweet, and can strike up a conversation with anyone else. You don’t have to know the other person in the physical world in order to interact. People search all tweets for certain words or phrases, and may begin “following” anyone who uses those terms.

The good news is that teens today understand this, and most of them are avoiding Twitter for that very reason. Many of them find Twitter “creepy”, and prefer to stick with Facebook, MySpace and the other “connect with people I already know” type sites.

However, as we know, the dangers of the Internet are not limited to children – adults can quickly find themselves involved in things they didn’t expect. Twitter is finding it necessary to actively search out twitter spammers as people figure out ways to leverage this open environment in a self-serving way.

In future blog posts we will explore some of the unique dangers that accompany participating in the “meet new people” type sites, such as Twitter.

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