Should Social Networks have a social conscience?

I’ve been having a discussion with several people following the Bebo incident. Theres an article about it here where the coroner says..

“I shall be looking at these networking sites myself to see if there is a link between them and the growing number of youngsters committing suicide.”

“But in the meantime I want to warn youngsters about the possible dangers these websites can pose.”

“I would also like to warn parents to be actively on the alert for signs of their children being influenced by others on these sites. ”

It’s a gnarly subject and my thoughts are still forming on the influence of the internet on these people. Things I have been thinking about are:-

(a) These sites allow people who share interests to come together. Teens are particularly valunerable and suseptable to influence from others, this can tak place online or in a community or at school or anywhere. Is the internet itself (and are these sites) responsible for what occurs or are they just a means of communication?

(b) Can people who wouldn’t otherwise meet be influenced in ways not possible in the past? – i.e. the potential for the sites to allow groups to form where people are of the same tendancy to self reproach or lack of self esteem, whereas in ‘real’ life you tend to meet an eclectic group of individuals with different tastes and personalities and therefore some may influence you positively rather than affirming negative thinking?

(c) Is it impossible to control how any of these things are used? – Where should the policing or control take place? – I think the parents have a strong influence here and I don’t think it’s necessarily the government or ISP’s or site providers who should come up with all the answers.

(d) Would these events have occured anyhow? – Is this actually nothing to do with the internet but a lot more to do with creating a society where we engender respect and self worth. In which case do we as a society have some collective responsibility for ensuring that people on sites like this don’t spiral into suicidal depression. Can we do anything about it?

I don’t have any answers I just have questions.

About willwoods
I'm Head of Learning and Teaching Technologies in the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University.

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