Social Networks - Blessing Or Curse?

Facharbeit (Schule), 2011

14 Seiten, Note: 2-

Ruben Picard (Autor:in)



1. Introduction

2. Introducing Social Networks On The Internet

3. Development And Intention Of Social Networks

4. How Social Networks Influence Our Lives

5. Business Of Social Networks

6. We No ighing The Benefits and Disadvantages Of Social Networks
6.1 Potential Of Social Networks
6.2 Dangers Of The Use Of Social Networks
6.2.1 Consequences Of Giving Personal Information

7. Conclusion



1. Introduction

In the past few years a great number of social networks have appeared on the internet. Though the term “social network“ seems to be something new, something, associated with the world wide web and new technologies, social networks have existed ever since men have. Any interacting group of people can be considered a social network and is defined by the relationships between the individuals. That makes it really interesting to find a system that was part of our lives from the cradle of humankind, being faced with such a young invention called the internet.

“Facebook“, “MySpace“, “Twitter“, “Bebo“, “Xing“, “LinkedIn“, “StudiVZ“ and “Friendster“ are just some of these recently established social networks on the internet. What they all have in common is that they try to connect people by providing a platform meant to help users communicate in the most convenient and entertaining way possible or by providing a matchless network service that specialises in a particular area (e.g. music or news).

Today, every fourth internet user is on Facebook[1] - that is half a billion people.[2] A survey I put out concerning the use of social networks by young people in Germany, showed that incredible 88% of the surveyed pupils are signed in on at least one social network and 81% of them log on daily.[3] So if Facebook users were a nation, it would be the third most populated country in the world after China and India (and there are still more users of other social networks) – that is quite astonishing.

I decided to write a research paper about social networks on the internet because I could hardly distinguish whether my own use of such services is either beneficial or reprehensible. These days, new services on the internet that promise to be very entertaining or apparently have a high potential to improve or simplify the way we work and communicate seem to be very attractive to a wide range of internet users. While some people are quite sceptical about online services like social networks, others tend to use them without even considering any potential risks. Are they just blinded by the revolutionary possibilities based on the “Web 2.0“[4],or do we actually not have anything to fear?

The social network Facebook will serve as my basic example for the analysis of social networks because it is the most used and thereby most discussed social network on the world wide web; its structure also generally represents other, similar networks.

These social networks are surprisingly entertaining, especially for younger people. But can we trust a completely new way of communication? Considering that almost all social networks are completely free, the question comes up how they can be financed. Do social networks help us organise our lives by providing virtual groups, calendars and event managers? Will these groups even be able to represent political interests? And what about the lack of privacy social networks possibly promote?

Among other aspects, I want to deal with the above-mentioned questions by analysing the way social networks operate and weighing the benefits and disadvantages of social networks on the internet.

2. Introducing Social Networks On The Internet

Social networks on the internet are interactive web services that require a registration. In comparison to conventional web pages, they are similar to computer programs in that users can insert texts, upload photos and videos, and change particular settings. These networks are basically used to communicate with other members.

Users mainly share messages on their own profile page, a section that has the function of a virtual noticeboard. This can also contain links to other websites, and photos and videos in that other members can be tagged. Friends, friends of friends, or any other members can comment on these notes or leave new ones. Who can access one's profile page depends on the privacy settings made. Personal information, a list of friends, and photos and videos of the profile's owner can also be displayed by selecting the according links on the profile page.

Users spend their time by making comments about how they feel and what they are doing, by commenting on others' photos, or just by browsing through other profile pages.

3. Development And Intention Of Social Networks

It was only about ten years ago that the first online social networks as we know them today emerged.[5] The rapid development of such networks did not take place by

chance – in fact, it was based on the social network companies' ability to stay flexible, to develop high quality algorithms that were able to structure the mass of data[6],and to always come up with new, innovative ideas. Another significant reason is that these social networks could promote themselves just by providing their services that obviously aim to connect people via the internet. So the actual service itself was a way of promoting social networks, and thereby contributed to such a swift expansion of those.

Developers initially aimed to get as many new members as quickly as possible[7] simply by providing a platform that connects its users. But motifs changed over the years and other advancements became more relevant, as I will describe hereafter.

The development of social networks can be divided into “Three Steps Of Evolution Of Social Networks“.[8] The first step is considered the “Walled Gardens“[9] -phase. It describes social networks as isolated communities that simply aimed to grow exponentially and were not connected to any other websites or services on the internet.

The second phase, launched by Facebook in 2007, gave external website operators the possibility to “enter the walled gardens“ by developing little applications to promote their interests. In this phase, the social networks started to develop application programming interfaces[10]. To a certain degree, it was now possible to surf specific web content, without even leaving the network site. Of course that brought along the side effect that users spent more and more time on these websites, so other social network operators tried to follow Facebook's innovation.

The third phase – “The Whole Web As A Platform”[11] – that began about two years ago emphasises the social network companies' altered motifs that I mentioned before. Only Facebook and Twitter[12] ever successfully reached this phase, while others are

more or less struggling to catch up. In that last phase, major network services try to be part of the whole internet. Again Facebook played the pioneer's role – its developers introduced the “Like-Button” , a small piece of universal software (a “plugin”[13] ) that can be easily attached to a website to give visitors the opportunity to “like” the provided service or particular contents of it simply by clicking on this little button.

(...) it does not seem too unusual hearing Mike Schroepfer, Vice President of Engineering for Facebook, say: 'It is quite possible, that one day there will be no thing called any more.'[14]

Steinschaden, Jakob; Wien 2010

At first sight this quotation is pretty misleading, but it constitutes exactly what Facebook and other networks also try to be: The part of the internet that links any websites to the own social network and thereby provides some kind of an evaluation system (because visitors can “like” or comment what they come across) – a database of interests that can be pretty valuable when it comes to marketing strategies of advertisers.[15] So in the end, besides the intention to expand the particular social network, there is the goal of collecting as much information as possible about users and their preferences. That is not too obvious and maybe even scary to a certain degree.

4. How Social Networks Influence Our Lives

Using a social network on the internet is certainly more complex than it seems. In reality, there is a certain number of people we can develop a meaningful relationship

with – according to Robin Dunbar[16], a group of approximately 150 people. Obviously there is a connection between us and every single individual out of these 150. We might just call them friends, but they can be colleagues, partners, fellows, etc. as well. They talk to each other, they share recommendations, and they suggest to each other to do something or not to do it. But if we think this is the amount of people we can seriously influence and we can also seriously be influenced by, we commit a major fault.

Our (…) research has shown that the spread of influence in social networks obeys what we call the Three Degrees of Influence Rule. Everything we do or say tends to ripple trough our network, having an impact on our friends (one degree), our friends' friends (two degrees), and even our friends' friends' friends (three degrees). Our influence gradually dissipates and ceases to have a noticeable effect on people beyond the social frontier that lies at three degrees of separation. Likewise, we are influenced by friends within three degrees but generally not by those beyond[17]

Christakis, Nicholas & Fowler, James; London 2011

This concept shows that we are not influenced by roughly 150 people in our social network of friends, but rather by up to 3.375.000 people (to make it simple, I assume the individuals do not know each other), of whom we have only seen a few in our lives. Of course we are mutually influenced the most by our friends, less by our friends' friends and logically least by our friends' friends' friends.[18] It is pretty interesting that the average number of friends a user has on social networks on the internet (130 friends) is so close to the number Robin Dunbar stated for real social networks. That suggests that his theory is applicable to online social networks as well.[19]


[1] STEINSCHADEN, Jakob: „Phänomen Facebook – Wie eine Website unser Leben auf den Kopf stellt.“, Verlag Carl Ueberreuter, Wien 2010, p.7

[2] Ibid. p.12

[3] The corresponding graphs can be found in the addendum, “The Use of The Different Social Networks” & “How Often Do Young People Use Social Networks?”

[4] The term “Web 2.0“ describes a new, more interactive Internet that is also more entertaining in comparison to conventional web content.

[5] WEIGERT, Martin: „Massenphänomen: Die drei Evolutionsstufen sozialer Netzwerke – Social Networks dominieren das Internetgeschehen wie nie zuvor. Wir werfen einen Blick auf die drei Evolutionsstufen sozialer Netzwerke“; ; 21.04.2010 (accessed 04.03.2011)

[6] Steinschaden 2010, p.13

[7] Weigert 2010

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. (meaning a bounded domain)

[10] A programming interface that allows external programmers to integrate their own software into another system (also called: API).

[11] Weigert 2010

[12] A social network service on the internet that specialises in news.

[13] A set of software components that adds functionality to another, larger piece of software (e.g. a website).

[14] Steinschaden 2010, p.34

[15] This will be discussed more extensively in „5. Business of social networks“, p.8

[16] KROTOSKI, Aleks: „Robin Dunbar: We can only ever have 150 friends at most... - Evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar tells Aleks Krotoski why even Facebook cannot expand our true social circle: our brains just aren't big enough to cope“, 14.03.2010 (accessed 09.03.2011) (Also from the video on that page)

[17] CHRISTAKIS, Nicholas & FOWLER, James: „Connected – The Amazing Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives“, HarperCollinsPublishers (first published in 2010), London 2011, p. 27-28

[18] Ibid. p.28

[19] Steinschaden 2010, p.71

Ende der Leseprobe aus 14 Seiten


Social Networks - Blessing Or Curse?
Städt. Heinrich-Heine-Gymnasium, Mettmann
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
540 KB
In dieser Hausarbeit wird ein sehr aktuelles und noch recht unerforschtes Thema behandelt. Es werden ebenfalls kritische Denkansätze bezüglich der Nutzung von sozialen Netzwerken im Internet gegeben.
Social Network, Soziales Netzwerk, Internet, Neue Medien, Facebook, StudiVZ, Datenschutz, Cyber
Arbeit zitieren
Ruben Picard (Autor:in), 2011, Social Networks - Blessing Or Curse?, München, GRIN Verlag,


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