Social networking Internet activity is increasing at a rate site developers never imagined. What began as a MySpace epidemic seems to have turned into warfare between Facebook “friends” and Twitter “followers” with several alternative options available. As with the introduction of any new communication tool, there are potential risks and benefits of the use of this new technology. Generations before us, after all, often lost track of old neighbors, previous teachers, ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends. Social networking has allowed us to keep in touch with those close to us and has allowed people from our past to contact us. It is this crowd, people from our past that has brought social networking into the counseling office as a topic of discussion.
There are several benefits of social networking. Since September 2006, anyone over the age of 13 with a valid e-mail address (and not residing in one of the countries where it is banned) can become a Facebook user. The website currently has more than 400 million active users worldwide. Users can add friends and send messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves. Additionally, users can join networks organized by city, workplace and school or college. We are often able to contact people that we grew up with, people we knew in high school or college, or people we worked with several years ago. We are able to use a time-saving tool to post important life events to daily activity, photos of ourselves, our friends and family and post lifestyle indicators and questionnaires for those with whom we don’t have daily contact. We are able to share all this information, with those we choose, in seconds without having to phone or e-mail each person individually. In an age where time is short and desire to communicate is high, this is a wonderful tool.
To many, it is unimaginable that social networking could have risks. The risks, however, are as extensive as the benefits. It has been banned at many places of work to discourage employees from wasting time. It has been involved in controversy over the sale of fans and friends and privacy settings. There have been homicides and suicides linked to social networking activity. Recently, there has been an increase of relationship problems related to social networking.
Within the last couple of years, I have seen a rise of social networking related relationship problems. The overwhelmed wife responding to posts from an ex-boyfriend. The overworked husband curiously contacting a girlfriend from college. As is in most cases with affairs, these Internet conversations often start out innocently. It is when friendly contact with someone from your past turns intimate that prompts the question, “Facebook, friend or foe?”
Mysti Rainwater is a licensed professional counselor and member of the Ahwatukee Foothills Behavioral Network. She works with individuals, couples, families and business groups with a focus on the role of communication in relationships. Reach her at www.mystirainwater.info or (480) 223-8263.