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Online Social Networking and its Influence

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The invent of social media brought changes in behaviors, communication, and even crime. This sample research paper explores social media benefits and risks.

Understanding the influence social media has on youth

Teenagers and children develop social relationships differently from adults. Those social influences can harm or help the overall mental develop of the younger generation. The influence of social networking on society’s youth is of particular significance for a number of reasons:

  • Teenagers and adolescents are more developmentally vulnerable to negative influences,
  • They are also the heaviest users of social media

Common Sense Media conducted a study that showed that 75% of American teenagers have profiles on social media sites with 68% of them using Facebook as their main social networking account (Ramasubbu 2015). Since its rise in popularity, it has been debated whether or not the impact of such sites is more positive or negative. There are certainly benefits to social media use by adolescents that cannot be ignored. They have the ability to help with communication and socialization, they can enhance learning opportunities, and, somewhat surprisingly, these networks have had a positive impact on teens’ involvement in their own healthcare.

Still, there are also risks to social media use by teenagers and adolescents that cannot be ignored. There is the obvious and highly-publicized issue of cyber-bullying, the nearly as talked about the phenomenon of ‘sexting’, mental health risks, issues of privacy, and exposure to inappropriate material and marketing activities. As popular as such social networks as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are, what is the overall impact they have on society and it’s youth?

Benefits of social media for children and adolescents

Researchers have determined there is a direct link between social development and social media. One of the benefits of teenagers and children using social media is that it helps with socialization and communication, especially when it comes to shy habits. Users are able to stay connected with their friends and family, make new friends, and share experiences, pictures, and ideas, all of which are important to kids offline as well. A report by the Pew Research Center found that 58% of teens who use social media have had an experience online that made them feel closer to another person (Lenhart, Madden, Smith, Purcell, Zickuhr, and Rainie 2011).

Social media also offers teenagers and adolescents opportunities for community engagement, enhancing creativity through the development and sharing of artistic and musical endeavors, the growth of ideas, fostering their individual identities, and learning respect, tolerance, and increased discourse for global issues (Clarke-Pearson and O’Keefe 2011). Social networks undoubtedly provide social benefits to those who use them.

Learning strategies and current events

Another benefit of social media on adolescents is that is can enhance users’ learning opportunities, whether it is traditional or online learning. Students can use social media to connect with each other on projects or homework. Social networks provide a forum to exchange ideas and information outside of school. In addition, some schools utilize blogs as teaching tools, which provides the benefit of reinforcing creativity, written expression, and English skills (Clarke-Pearson and O’Keefe 2011).

Social networks also provide a platform for youth to stay informed about current events. An impressive 50% of users get their breaking news on social media sites (McGillivray 2015). These sites allow adolescents to remain informed and up-to-date on issues they might not otherwise hear as much about. Social media can provide new teaching tools and learning experiences that students would not otherwise have access to.

Being able to access information about health concerns anonymously is another benefit to teenagers and adolescents using social media. Topics such as safe sex, stress reduction, and signs of depression are of particular interest to teenagers and information on these subjects is now readily available to anyone with access to these networks. Children and teenagers with chronic illnesses are able to access support through various sites and networks and communicate with others who experience similar conditions and symptoms (Clarke-Pearson and O’Keeffe 2011). Technologies, like cell phones, produce improvements in health care like medication adherence, a better understanding of diseases, and fewer missed appointments. Such networks provide unique opportunities for adolescents to take control of their own healthcare.

Risks of social media use by adolescents and teenagers

One of the most talked about risks of children and adolescents using social media is the risk of cyber-bullying and online harassment. Cyberbullying is the deliberate use of digital media to communicate embarrassing, false, or hostile information about another person and is the most common online risk for all teens and adolescents that use social networking sites. The Pew Research Center conducted a study that found that 15% of teens that use social media have been the target of online harassment, while 88% report having witnessed such harassment (Lenhart et al. 2011). These numbers do not vary based on age, gender, race, or socio-economic status.

It is incredibly common and has the potential to cause negative psychosocial outcomes such as depression, anxiety, isolation, and in some cases, suicide (Clarke-Pearson and O’Keeffe 2011). A significant number of students surveyed by the Pew Research Center reported negative outcomes in their lives as a result of social media use. Of those students, 25% reported having an experience on social networking that resulted in a face-to-face confrontation and 22% have had an experience that ended a friendship. Another 13% reported having had an experience that caused a problem with their parents, the same percentage felt nervous about going to school the next day, and 8% have gotten into a physical fight as a result of something that happened on social media (Lenhart et al. 2011).

Social media anonymity makes cyber-bullying easier

Something that makes cyberbullying so common is the anonymity that the internet offers. StopAllBullying.com found that there are typically two kinds of people who are likely to become cyber bullies, popular people and those on the outer edge of the social pool. The reason for this is believed to be that the popular ones feel the need to maintain their power and control while the others attempt to fit in or ‘get back at’ society for excluding them (Ramasubbu 2015). There is a reason that this kind of online harassment is more common than personal confrontation. Cyberbullying comes more easily than face-to-face bullying because the perpetrator does not have to witness the victim’s reaction in person and therefore believes that the action does not have many consequences (Gordon 2011). All young people that use social media sites are at risk for this sort of harassment and most have either seen it occurring or been victims themselves. Due to violent consequences of cyber-bullying law enforcement has advocated for the harassment to be considered a cyber crime.

Social media and 'Sexting'

Another major concern when it comes to the use of social media by teenagers and adolescents is sexting. Sexting is defined as:

“Sending, receiving, or forwarding sexually explicit messages, photographs, or images via cell phone, computer, or other digital devices.” (Clarke-Pearson and O’Keeffe 2011).

Despite the intention of being private, these messages rarely remain so and can be rapidly distributed by forwarding the messages over text message or the internet (see online privacy). According to studies, 20% of teens have sent or posted nude or seminude photographs or videos of themselves (Ybarra and Mitchell 2008). This phenomenon is incredibly common and comes with some harsh consequences.

Aside from the obvious embarrassment of personal photos being distributed among peers, some teens have been threatened or charged with felony child pornography for distributing inappropriate pictures of minors, even if the minor in question is the sender themselves. About 17% of teens who admitted to ‘sexting’ reported to sharing the messages they received with someone else, while 55% of that number reported sharing them with more than one person (Ramasubbu 2015). Other consequences include being suspended from school and emotional and mental distress on the part of the victim.

The risk of Facebook depression, also known as social media addiction, is another real concern for teenagers and children using social media networks. Recent research proposes a new phenomenon referred to as ‘Facebook depression’, which occurs when adolescents spend a lot of tie on social media and as a result exhibit classic depression symptoms. Teens and preteens yearn to feel accepted by their peers, and that desire combined with the intensity of the online world can trigger depression in some adolescents (Clarke-Pearson and O’Keeffe 2011). Just like with regular depression, those who suffer from Facebook depression are at risk for social isolation and often turn to internet sources and forums for help that may promote unsafe sexual practices, substance abuse, and other self-destructive behaviors.

Privacy concerns on social media

Another risk that brings cause for concern over social networking use by adolescents are privacy-related. Improper use of technology, oversharing, posting false information, and the lack of privacy that comes with internet use can all put one’s personal privacy at risk. 17% of teens reported that their online profiles had their privacy setting set to ‘public’ so that anyone can see all of their information (those teens also reported experiencing more harassment than those with more selective privacy settings) (Lenhart et al. 2011). When internet users access various Web pages, they leave behind evidence of which sites they have visited. This impression left behind is called a digital footprint.

A young person’s digital footprint is a large risk to their future reputation. Minors who use the internet without awareness of these privacy issues may post inappropriate pictures, videos, and messages without really comprehending that what they put online will stay there. Employers and college admissions boards are able to view the things that users post and one’s future job or college acceptance can be put into jeopardy by a split-second click of a mouse. 6% of students reported having gotten into trouble at school as a result of an experience on a social networking site (Lenhart et al. 2011). In addition, this kind of irresponsible and ill-informed technology use can make kids bigger targets for fraud and marketing.

Targeted social media advertisements

Another risk associated with teenage and adolescent social media use is advertisement. Social media sites often utilize several advertisement techniques, such as demographic-based ads aimed to target people based on specific factors (in this case: age) and behavior ads, which target people based on their browsing history and behavior. These ads do not just influence buying patterns, but can alter an adolescent’s view on what is considered normal (Clarke-Pearson and O’Keeffe 2011). Teens and preteens are particularly vulnerable to suggestion and their exposure to advertisements has the ability to manipulate and warp the way these kids see themselves, others, and the world around them.

Social networking and its impact on children and teens

It seems that most people these days have some sort of social media account. Parents, grandparents, young adults, teenagers, and even pre-teens log onto these sites every day and interact with the online world. Unrestricted by gender, race, and socio-economic status (Lewis, Gonzalez, and Kaufman 2011), users of all ages access social media, but the effect it can have on teenagers and adolescents can be both positive and negative.

There are several benefits to social media use by these age groups. The first is assisting in the development of socialization and communication, which can enhance relationships and self-esteem. Next, expended of learning opportunities that students would not have otherwise, such as the quick and easy sharing of ideas and use of social networks as a tool. Finally, a third observed benefit to social media use by adolescents is that it enables them to have more command and understanding of their own healthcare (such as healthcare and technology as seen in this annotated bibliography). While these benefits are undeniably valuable, there are still negative impacts to consider. First, the very obvious risk of cyberbullying, which most have witnessed and many have been victim to.

Next, there is the phenomenon of ‘sexting’, which is certainly inappropriate and undoubtedly risky. Third, there are a number of mental health risks that social media use can cause in teen and preteen users, such as depression and anxiety. Fourth, there is a privacy issue, as improper or ill-informed internet use can have vast consequences when it comes to one’s privacy, and finally, there is a risk associated with all the exposure to advertisements that users receive on social media, which can alter the way adolescents view the world around them.

The use of social media is rampantly popular and its largest age demographic is at the highest risk for these negative risks; but on the other hand, they are also the most susceptible to the positive impacts social media can have as well. Regardless of risks and benefits, social networking is likely to remain a popular platform for teenagers and adolescents to feel heard and important in our increasingly technological world.

Work Cited

Clarke-Pearson, Kathleen and Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe. “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families”. American Association of Pediatrics. (2011): Vol. 127, No. 4, p. 800-804. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Gordon, Serena. “Social Media Has Good and Bad Effects on Kids: Experts”. U.S. News Health. U.S. News and World Report LP. 28 Mar. 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Lenhart, Amanda, Mary Maden, Aaron Smith, Kristen Purcell, Kathryn Zickuhr, and Lee Rainie. Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites. Rep. Pew Research Center, 9 Nov. 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Lewis, Kevin, Marco Gonzalez, and Jason Kaufman. "Social Selection and Peer Influence in an Online Social Network." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 109.1 (2011): 68-72. PNAS. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

McGillivray, Nick. “What Are the Effects of Social Media on Youth?” HubPages Technology. HubPages.com, Inc.12 Oct. 2015. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

Ramasubbu, Suren. “Influence of Social Media on Teenagers”. Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. 26 May 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.

Ybarra, Michelle, and Kimberly J. Mitchell. "How Risky Are Social Networking Sites? A Comparison of Places Online Where Youth Sexual Solicitation and Harassment Occur." Pediatrics: Official Journal for the American Academy of Pediatrics 42nd ser. 10.15 (2008): 350-57. Print.



Ultius, Inc. "Online Social Networking and its Influence." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 29 Nov. 2015. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/online-social-networking-and-its-influence.html

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Ultius, Inc. "Online Social Networking and its Influence." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. November 29, 2015 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/online-social-networking-and-its-influence.html.

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