Communication over the Internet
 
Social networking sites
 
What are they?

Social networking sites (or social networks) are web-based applications that enable users to connect with each other.

Users themselves provide most of the content found on these sites, including publications, photos and hyperlinks.

The sites that are most popular in Québec are Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Myspace.

These sites allow you to stay in touch with friends and maintain a social life.

 
How do they work?
  • You create a personal profile (link to User safety).

  • You choose the security settings to protect your personal information and make the content you publish accessible to a select group of people.

  • You invite friends to join your network (link to User safety).

  • Then, you can post content, modify your status or read and comment on your contacts' statuses (link to User safety).

  • You can contribute to discussions on your profile page or your contacts' pages.

  • You can post photos if you want to (link to User safety).

  • You can recommend links to sites you find interesting.

  • You can share your favourite videos.

  • Etc.

 
Who can use them?


Most social networks are open to the public and allow anyone who is interested and meets their criteria to join. Each network establishes its own user criteria.

On most sites, you must be over 13 years of age to create a profile.

You must observe the terms of use of the social network you are joining. In addition to the age requirement, most social networks advocate non-violence and respect.

 
Why sign up?

  • To stay in touch with friends

  • To discover new and interesting things

  • To get answers to your questions

  • To quickly get your friends' opinion on something that concerns you

  • Out of curiosity

  • Or perhaps you have other good reasons for signing up

Not-so-good reasons to sign up:
  • Having the longest list of contacts should never be your motivation for signing up to a social networking site. The number of "friends" to whom you are linked on the site has nothing to do with your popularity! In reality, it would be really difficult to maintain real relationships with hundreds of people.

  • Bullying is violent behaviour and is never okay (link to Cyber-bullying). Engaging in this kind of behaviour (making threats, starting rumours, insulting others, etc.) can have negative consequences for person doing the bullying such as being banned from the network or even legal action.

Social networks can have some great advantages. It is really not worth wasting your time using them for the wrong reasons.

 
Pros and cons

Pros

While many have sought relentlessly to point out the shortcomings of social networking sites, there are some positive sides to using them.

These sites can help you:
  • stay in touch with friends;

  • keep up with people you don't get to see very often;

  • learn to express your opinions in a respectful manner;

  • develop computer skills with the tools offered on these sites;

  • share your cool finds with friends and discover theirs as well;

  • sharpen your judgment by learning, among other things, to gauge what should and should not be shared publicly.
Can you name any other perks of using social networking sites?

Cons

  • Unfortunately, some malicious people may end up in your network (wanting to commit identity theft or fraud, for instance). To protect yourself as much as possible, refer to the section on user safety (link).

  • Your friends' contacts may not always be your friends. Through your own network, you may sometimes be giving people you don't intend to access to your information (link to User safety).
Can you think of other downsides of using social networking sites?

 
Relationships on social networking sites

Friendships

Social networks can be a nice way to maintain contact with your friends. It is nevertheless important to distinguish between messages that can be made public and those that are best kept private. If you are not sure and need some insight, ask yourself the following questions:
  • For whom is the message really intended? If you are trying to settle an argument with a friend, you should address that person directly, using the appropriate means to share your thoughts (link to part on conflict resolution in the Friends section).

  • Who really needs to see your message? If your message concerns a disagreement, the only person who actually needs to see your message is the person with whom you disagree.

  • What would anybody else gain from seeing your message? In reality, other people seeing your message serves no purpose apart from leaving them feeling caught in the middle of a fight between two "friends" and unable to do much about it!

  • What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to settle the argument or prove you are right at all costs? You may have hidden motives for publicly voicing a private conflict. For example, deep down, you may be hoping that your friends will take your side and have a negative image of the other person. Has that ever happened to you? In reality, acting like that does nothing to solve the problem. If anything, it alienates those involved. Likewise, some of your friends may instead end up with a negative impression of you if they see that you settle your scores in public. Is that really what you want?

  • Would you like someone to publish a message like this if it had to do with you? How would you feel if someone posted about how annoying you were at the last party? There are two sides to every story, and when two people are fighting, each of them has only half of the information. In fact, often, when two people take the time to speak calmly to one another, they realize the argument was the result of a simple misinterpretation of the other person's intentions. 

  • How could making your message openly accessible negatively affect you? Posting publicly could have many negative implications. For example, it could end your friendship with the other person for good; it could divide your friends into two camps; or you could also alienate yourself from your group of friends if they do not agree with your actions. Have you ever had to go through any of this?

What would you do if you were to get into a fight or conflict with a friend?


You should feel comfortable sending a message to your friend to share your disagreement (link to part on conflict resolution in the Friends section), but should your message be public or private? Try answering the abovementioned questions.

When attempting to resolve a problem or conflict, all of the people involved need to feel respected. If you try to settle an issue in front of everyone, do both parties feel respected? Not likely!

Sometimes, openly posting a message about a fight with another person is really an attempt at getting your contacts to take your side and blame the other person. 

Romantic relationships

Social networks can be a good way of maintaining a real-life relationship, meaning one that is not solely online. Here, too, it is important to use your judgment in determining what should be made public and what should be kept private (link to Friendships).

Refer to the section on online dating if you are in an exclusively Internet-based relationship (link to Virtual love).

 
You know it's too much when...
  • You only interact with friends through social networking sites.

  • You turn down activities or meetings with people so you can stay connected with your "friends" online.

  • You find it difficult to stay away from these sites for a few days.

If any of these statements applies to you, do not hesitate to speak to a counsellor from your school, a youth centre or Tel-jeunes.

 
User safety

  • Be careful with your personal information! Never share your personal contact information (e.g. address or telephone number) in a public post or in your profile. When you sign up for a site, you can choose to display your real name or use a nickname to maintain some degree of anonymity. You do not have to share your birth date either...

  • Choose the right security settings. It's up to you to decide who will have access to your information (friends, friends of friends or all users). You can choose who can see personal details such as where you live, your date of birth or your hobbies. You can also choose who will see the content you post, including comments, photos and videos. Who do you want to see what?

  • Never share your password, except of course with your parents if they ask for it, and never over the Internet! The purpose of a password is to be sure that no one, other than yourself, uses or changes your profile. It can get touchy if people try to pass themselves off as you. What would your girlfriend say if she were to see you online when you are supposed to be at school? What might an ex write if they get angry with you?
  • Be careful what you post online! Never post comments, photos or videos that you would not want posted at school. Keep in mind that the purpose of social networking sites is to keep people in touch. As soon as you make something public, you no longer control what happens to it: a contact could share it with "friends" who might then pass it on to their "friends," and before you know it, the whole school knows about it.

  • Uphold your reputation. Do not allow friends to publish something about you or your mutual friends that you, yourself, would not publish. It is increasingly common for potential employers to check job applicants' profiles on social networking sites.

  • Your friends' contacts aren't necessarily your friends. Just because someone is associated with one of your contacts does not mean you have to accept them as one of yours. Having the longest "friend" list on social networking sites says absolutely nothing about your popularity. Restricting your contacts to people you really know allows you to maintain some control over the material you post.
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