Social networking: the risks and the benefits

News today from The BBC that an Israeli soldier who posted militarily sensitive pictures on Facebook has been sentenced to 19 days in jail. Apparently Lebanese and Palestinian militants use social networking sites like Facebook and Flickr to monitor online Israeli communities, for reconnaissance and information gathering.

Of course this isn’t the only example of social networks being used for ill. Bebo has been used (and still is being used, from what I’ve seen) to peddle sectarian hatred across Northern Ireland and parts of Scotland. Myspace (and no doubt other social networks) have been used by pedophiles to groom potential victims.

It’s little wonder then, that when parts of the media try to cover difficult or outwardly inexplicable situations, like the spate of teenage suicides in Bridgend, that they seek out a modern day bogey man to try and explain the outwardly inexplicable.

It is of course genuinely tragic that anything created to bring people together can be used to tear at the fabric of society in such damaging ways.

Indeed, any journalist using social networking in their pursuit of stories and ledes needs to tread carefully, and avoid needless intrusion into these untested and unchartered new modes of life.

But of course this cannot and should not impinge itself on the wider use of social networking. Not because of any technologically determinist argument: not because we can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

We should continue using social networking because they can help us to develop ourselves and increase our potential to see life from as many different angles as there are. They can help us reach out, and both move and be moved by others.

Only connect…

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