Sociology — How Social Norms Transform as a Result of the Information Age

How Social Norms Transform as a Result of the Information Age

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Social media is a double-edged sword that has transformed social norms by allowing instantaneous global communications with multiple facets, tools and consequences that can improve, harm or even destroy people’s lives, depending on how it is used. Comparison of online and offline interactions show distinct differences in the way they are conducted and the results of their use. Facebook is a striking example of the Information Age’s social revolution, commencing in 2004 and constantly tweaking communications and expanding its influence up to its current membership of 1 billion. Certain social conventions are still followed on social media such as Facebook, enhancing existing relationships for some members. Nevertheless, social media can prove unduly intrusive on privacy, deceitful and even substantially harmful in ways unavailable in face-to-face transactions.

2. Body

a. The Social Media Platform of Facebook

Facebook is a website for social networking that was started in 2004 by Harvard students. Facebook became popular very early due to the facts that it is free and has unique features that allowed new ways for people to interact. One founder, Mark Zuckerberg, saw a unique way of have an open platform for communications by people who are “transparent” — who really are who they seem to be (Keahey, 2010). Based on that unique idea and a number of communication features, Facebook grew to its current membership of nearly 1 billion (Walker, 2013). In addition, Facebook continues to develop new features to provide interaction. As of today, the Facebook users can find, interact and share with each other through many tools, including pictures, videos, music, real-time chatting, posted text, symbols, links to outside sources of interest, personal timelines, personal biographies, name searches, scanned e-mail contact lists, news feeds, a ticker that lets the user know his/her Facebook friends’ activities on Facebook, and personal status updates (Walker, 2013), live video chats (Hamilton J.R., 2012, p. 171), games that can be played and/or hosted, status updates through Twitter, hiding status updates while seeing the status updates of others, birthday reminders, mass invitations to events, polls, and the use of third-party applications (, 2011). As a result of its open platform, transparency and many tools, Facebook has helped change the face of social interactions.

Certain social conventions are also followed on Facebook. These social conventions include: the requirement of becoming a member of Facebook in order to use it; a member’s acceptance of Terms of Service about joining and using Facebook; a member’s accepted ability to put as little or as much information about himself/herself on the website, control who can or cannot see his/her information and interactions, control one’s friends by requiring requests to be “friended,” which the user can allow or ignore, group “friends” to control which groups can see which information and interactions, “unfriend” individuals at will, follow a story, and report posted communications as a story or spam (Walker, 2013). While polite conversation might cause a member to self-filter communications, there is no moral filter imposed by Facebook for vulgar, angry or threatening language. Nevertheless, Facebook does not protect criminal activities conducted on its site simply because someone is a member and has cooperated with the authorities when requested. In sum, certain standard social conventions are followed, other social conventions created specifically for Facebook are followed, but Facebook does not act as a policeman or a co-criminal with members.

b. Social Interaction Via Social Media vs. Face-to-Face Interaction

So far, social media is proving to be a double-edged sword. On one hand, social media such as Facebook is a boon. It helps users maintain and enhance “real life” friendships by sharing news, scheduling plans and staying in touch with distant friends (Lyday, 2012). Users also report that that social media helps their confidence (25%), helps make new friendships in general (26%), helps shy/lonely people in making new friends (83%) and is a good tool for finding long-lost acquaintances (76%) (Lyday, 2012). On the other hand, social media such as Facebook can be a detriment. Worldwide, non-mobile Facebook users spend 10.5 billion minutes per day on Facebook while mobile users spend an average of 441 minutes per month on Facebook (, 2011). Some researchers are concerned that spending so much time on social media is harmful to users’ socialization skills in the real world: “We worry whether you can learn to be social if you are not getting a great deal of practice reading faces and listening to voices” (Hamilton J.R., 2012, p. 170). In addition, social media might be making users lonelier: users report that they spend more time in online socializing than offline socializing (39%), would rather communicate online than offline (20%), and are likelier to speak to another person online than offline (33%) (Lyday, 2012). There is also the potential problem of deceit online. The offline and online worlds are basically as good and as bad as the people in them. One difference between the two worlds is that the online world tends to use limited personal communications that allow people to better hide reality and create false impressions. Even Facebook, which was founded on the idea of transparency, has its share of fake accounts created to deceive other users for one reason or another (Keahey, 2010). Consequently, a person we may “know” online can be a very different person or even a nonexistent person. One recent example of the deceit allowed by the limited personal contact of online communications is the embarrassing situation of Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame University linebacker who was duped by another man into believing in and actually establishing a romantic relationship with a young woman who never existed (Eder, 2013). The possible problems created by online deceit can vary from comical to simply annoying to criminal, for example when used by online sexual predators who find and prey on victims through deceit.

c. Potential Dangers and Future Consequences of Creating Digital Profiles of Ourselves on the Internet

Other possible problems may be caused by creating digital profiles of ourselves on the internet and/or by conducting personal business/relationships online. Members may be naive in believing that the personal information and interactions on social media are protected from harmful public viewing. For example, a website such as Facebook, with almost a billion members with personal profiles, is an attractive target for marketing. Marketing companies are certainly aware of the abundance of personal information on Facebook that can be gathered and used to sell products. In fact, marketing researchers are already studying and devising ways to gather, examine and exploit the personal information that Facebook members and other social media users are placing in their profiles and revealing through their online activities (Gummerus, Liljander, Weman, & Pihlstrom, 2012). The so-called personal information in profiles and revealed through online interactions can also destroy a member’s potential employment or even get the member fired from a current job. Fear of these possibilities is not paranoid, as some prospective employers are already asking for applicants’ Facebook login information and some employers have even sought out and misused users’ personal interactions online to fire them from their jobs (Boyden, 2012). Finally, digital profiles and personal information can be used for extremely harmful cyber-bullying. Perhaps the most famous American case of cyber-bullying involves Lori Drew and Megan Meier of O’Fallon, Missouri. Megan was the 13-year-old former classmate of Lori Drew’s daughter. Lori Drew created a fake profile on MySpace as a 16-year-old boy named “Josh Evans,” used a boy’s picture as the profile picture without his knowledge, sought out and flirted with Megan, then told her that “he” was moving away, that he disliked Megan and that the world would be a better place without her. Megan committed suicide on the same day. After Lori Drew learned of the suicide, she deleted the fake account. Lori Drew was convicted of several crimes, some under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but those convictions were thrown out on appeal (Wu, 2009, p. 3). The judge who threw out the convictions believed that allowing Lori Drew’s convictions to stand would “convert a multitude of otherwise innocent Internet users into misdemeanant criminals” (Hamilton K., 2009). Oddly enough, several people who were outraged by the fact that Drew’s convictions were thrown out then cyber-bullied her (Hamilton K., 2009). In sum, social media has already shown itself to be a double-edged sword that has been used to enhance some lives while damaging and even destroying other lives.

3. Conclusion

Social media is a double-edged sword and perhaps as good and as bad as the people who use it. Facebook, which is one of the most famous social media sites, has grown to nearly 1 billion users through the fact that it is free, its open platform, its transparency and its many tools to enhance social interactions online. A comparison of social interaction via social media and face-to-face interaction shows that social media can be used to enhance the offline lives of its users but can also harm the user’s real-world skills and social interactions, as well as provide tools for harmful online deceit. Furthermore, there are genuine potential dangers and consequences from creating digital profiles and conducting personal business/interactions on the internet. The personal information can be misused and abused by others such as marketing companies, potential employers, current employers and cyber-bullies such as Lori Drew. Analyzing social media shows that it can and has been used to enhance, harm or even destroy people’s lives.

Works Cited

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