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Dangers and Pitfalls of Social Media, Research Paper Example

Pages: 8

Words: 2329

Research Paper

Social media is a popular tool used for communication, employment opportunities, and marketing. Unfortunately, the dark side of social media has led to job loss, cyberbullying, and Facebook stalking. There have even been cases of murderers luring victims with the Craigslist website.  When social media is properly used, positive connections are created and users have the ability to share endless information.  However, there are many individuals who would use social media for malicious purposes.  Even though social media is often used responsibly, when used for malicious purposes, social media can lead to both physical and emotional harm.  The purpose of this paper is to examine the dangers of using social media without being cautious of its potentially lethal impacts.

Social Media

In today’s society, the majority of individuals use social media in some form.  Social media allows individuals to connect with one another and share information. Popular social media sites in the United States include Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, Linked In, Google Plus, Pinterest, Myspace, You Tube, and Instagram.  Some sites, such as ASMALLWORLD, are restrictive and require users to undergo an application process.  Other sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are general and anyone is able to establish an account.  As a result, it is very easy for an attacker to establish a phony account.  It is because of the Internet’s anonymity that criminals are able to assume false identities and harass, rob, or even murder trusting individuals.

Social Media and Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a relatively new concern that has been making headlines.  While bullying has always been around and has had the potentially harmful effects on its victims, cyberbullying is especially destructive because there is never an escape.  Once a post or an image “goes viral,” it will be on the Internet forever.  It is because of this permanence that a greater number of suicides have been blamed on cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying can involve include flaming, denigration, and harassment (Cowie, 2012).  Bullies can attack their victims with mean posts on their Facebook pages, use Twitter to spread malicious rumors, or send hateful emails.  Cyberbullies can also post videos and pictures of their victims in compromising situations.

Victims can be easily cyberstalked with social media, and their bullies can know their exact locations.

Social media can encourage bullies to masquerade as a false persona, with the intent to obtain secret information and cause their victim’s harm.  Bullies can pretend to be friends or love interests until they gain their victim’s trust.  Once the information is gathered, cyberbullies can use that information to destroy the victim’s finances, reputation, and emotional stability.  Cyberbullies may use the information to harass the victim in real life or in their online communities.  In some instances, cyberbullying may even lead to the victim’s death.

Exclusion is another form of cyberbullying, where victims are purposely excluded from groups online.  While exclusion may not be direct harassment, it can still be hurtful and leave victims with negative feelings.  Exclusion is often combined with other forms of bullying, so the victims are aware that they targets.

Cowie (2012) reports that victims of bullying in general may experience a lack of acceptance, loneliness, isolation, low self-esteem, and depression.  Individuals who are cyberbullied are usually victims of bullying in real life.  Social media simply provides another platform.  Cowie quotes a 2012 study by Schenk and Fremouw, which reveals that college student who were cyberbullied scored higher than controls on measures of depression.  Cowie also states that in addition to depression, school-age children who are cyberbullied are more likely to experience anxiety, phobias, and paranoia.  Studies show that cyberbullied school-age children are at an increased risk of depression, and more likely to display psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, abdominal pain, and insomnia.  Children who are cyberbullied may even be more prone to behavioral problems, such as alcohol consumption.

Social media can often be used to display shallow and judgmental prejudices. Users are judged based on their associations. Ahn states that an individual is considered attractive when their friends are attractive.  The levels of attractiveness are influenced by positive and negative comments left on a person’s Facebook wall (2011).  The same associations are applied to professionalism, and can have a positive or negative impact on an individual’s employment.

Negative Consequences for Employment

Social media is often essential in enhancing connections between work colleagues, finding employment opportunities, and advertising and marketing for businesses.  However, social media may also be detrimental to users’ job security.  Because professional boundaries may be unclear, users may assume that they are able to post freely and forget about any negative consequences.  Markwick (2012) provides the classic example of a Facebook user complaining about work, forgetting that his boss is a “friend.”   The boss finds out and the user loses their job. Users may also get into trouble if they or their friends post unprofessional information or pictures,  Employers or prospective employers may discover these unprofessional postings, and the user is either terminated or rejected for a potential job opportunity.

Shullich 2012 states that businesses may use social media to screen potential employees and to monitor current employees.  This practice is problematic because social media does not always reflect an accurate profile.  Employers may find the wrong person, the information may not be accurate, or the content may be taken out of context.  If employers are caught using social media as a screening method and users are penalized, a discrimination lawsuit may occur.

Viewing social media websites while at work can create problems. While some companies restrict these websites, Shullick (2012) reports that workers can lose their jobs or even face criminal charges if they are caught viewing pornographic materials, as this creates a “hostile work environment.”  Even if workers were not actively seeking such material, they can still get into trouble if it shows itself on their computers.  This usually occurs when workers are looking through their Facebook albums.

Increase Risk for Malware

Using social media increases the likelihood that individuals will fall victim to malware.  Shullich (2012) relays a 2010 report by McAfee labs that predicted social media “targeted abuses of personal identity and data” will significantly increase.  According to a Sophos survey in 2010, 40% of participants reported receiving malware on social networks.  This is double the amount of participants who received malware in 2009 (Shullick, 2012).  Malware provides criminals opportunity to obtain information about individuals and organizations, and to use that information against them.

Organizations can get into trouble if certain information is stolen.  Relevant data, customer identities, and financial data are essential assets to any business.  If the security is breached, results can be detrimental.  Information may include property information, personal information of its customers.  Leakage of information may also result in piracy of e-books, music, movies, and training videos.  Shullich (2012) describes how social media can be a tool for “corporate espionage” to occur.  Companies may use malware to steal another organization’s secrets to ensure success for themselves and eliminate competition.  If a company loses its vital secrets, they can may end up facing bankruptcy.

Businesses may fall prey to information being stolen through phishing. Phishing can be used to conduct scams, steal information, and exploit trust.  Criminals can use phishing when sending emails, but also with anything that supports a link, such as a post or “tweet” on Facebook and Twitter (Shullich, 2012).

Cyberstalking and Social Media

Attackers can use social media to track the interactions and whereabouts of users.  Cyberstalking occurs when individuals monitor wall posts and pictures on social media websites, often Facebook. These malicious individuals can use this information to harm their victims emotionally and physically.

Cyberstalking, or “Facebook stalking” often occurs with power relations and is “both a way to compensate for perceived weakness by obtaining social knowledge,” and to maintain “status hierarchies by reinforcing the importance of others” (Marwick, 2012).  Marwick provides the “classic” example of the jealous boyfriend using Facebook to monitor his girlfriend’s activities and to ultimately enforce control.

Shullich (2012) reports that individuals are often lured into a false sense of security.  Even when individuals think that their photos and posts are private, attackers are still able to find their information.  Facebook in particular has had problems with data leakage to third-party tracking sites.

Shullich (2012) reports that information in social media is so easily accessible to criminals because users will submit personal information such as their birth date, home address, phone numbers, and even their mother’s maiden name.  This information may even allow attackers to predetermine answers to passwords and security questions.

Death Due to Social Media

There have been many documented cases of physical harm occurring as a result of social media. There are many malicious individuals who will use the Internet’s anonymity to disguise their identities and lure unsuspecting victims to their deaths.  Shullich (2012) states that social media can be a “tool for criminal activity.”  Criminals can run scams, steal credit card information and identities, pirate information and intellectual property.  They can even use social media to stalk victims, commit robberies, murder, and even drive victims to suicide.

Shullich (2012) accounts the tragic case of Megan Meier.  She was a teenager who used MySpace with what she thought was a boy who liked her.  After this anonymous attacker won her trust, the tone of the conversation changed and Meier ended up committing suicide as a result.  The attacker was able to create a phony MySpace account and befriend Meier.

Suicides due to cyberbullying are becoming a more common occurrence.  Another example is the 2010 suicide of a college student when his homosexual encounter was recorded and broadcasted over the Internet.

One feature that can lead to crime in general, specifically homicide and robberies is the ability to track where an individual is at any given time.  Individuals will post their locations, be it a vacation or a trip to the supermarket, and the criminal knows exactly where they are.  The criminal can use that opportunity to rob their home or attack them personally.

Craigslist is another website associated with negative encounters.  While the main purpose is to provide an exchange of services, products, and ideas, Craigslist has also become a medium for major scams and violent crimes.  Oravec (2014) reports that although Craigslist is intended to be used for positive interaction, it is highly associated with negative encounters involving “murders, sex trafficking, and other crimes.”   Craigslist has undergone criticism that it lacks identification systems, and this can lead to pranks and scams.  People searching for jobs, housing, or products may find themselves providing personal information to criminals.

In 2009, Julissa Brisman was murdered in a prominent Boston Hotel.  She encountered her murderer in the Erotic (Adult) Services section on Craigslist.  Unfortunately, this crime was one of many murders.  Negative press and concerns for safety forced Craigslist to remove its Erotic Services section (Oravec, 2014).  Craigslist has even posted a disclaimer warning individuals against criminals and scams.

Social Media can be Used Responsibly

Even though negative instances can occur, social media is mostly used for positive purposes.  Individuals just have to be responsible and cautious when providing information.  Marwick (2012) states that “although sharing information with others through social media is often framed as a form of exhibitionism, in reality, it is often motivated by trust and intimacy.” Social media can be used to reinforce relationships and increase social capital.

Another positive aspect of social media is when information is made public and accessible to all.  Public information can be used to promote businesses and to help students with their academics and education.

Businesses can use social media to generate money, reduce costs and increase productivity.  Some businesses can use certain websites such as Facebook and Twitter to market their services and communicate with customers.

Students can use social media to improve their education.  Ahn (2011) discusses how social media affects the social and academic development of adolescents.  Even though many schools block access to social media, a greater number of students are using in as an educational tool.  Not only do students have greater access to information, they are often able to communicate with classmates about subjects, assignments, and research.

Ahn (2011) reports another benefit of social media is that it builds social capital and facilitates networking.  Ahn quotes a 2007 study by Lenhar & Madden that 91% of young individuals who use social media use it to interact with already known friends, not strangers.  In this case, young individuals are using social media in a positive manner.  The study concludes that when young individuals share information about themselves, the quality of relationships are improved and their self-esteem is increased (2011).

Conclusion

While the majority of individuals use social media for positive purposes, when social media is used in a negative context, results can be devastating.  Social media is not evil; it is a tool that can be used for criminals to capitalize on malicious behavior.  Because the Internet provides anonymity, criminals and bullies are able to commit horrible acts, while their identities remain hidden.

Many individuals assume a level of trust on certain social media websites and are likely to post personal information and may even share their exact location.  These disclosures can place individuals and their loved ones in physical danger.

In most circumstances, social media truly provides a medium for positive interaction.  Relationships are strengthened and knowledge is shared.  If individuals are aware of the dangers and parents take an active role in their children’s online activities, the dangers of social media are greatly reduced.  However, if individuals become too trusting of websites’ ability to protect them, they can place themselves at risk to be victims of crime.

References

Ahn, J. (2011). The effect of social network sites on adolescents’ social and academic development: Current theories and controversies. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 62(8), 1435-1445.

Cowie, H. (2013) Cyberbullying and its impact on young people’s emotional health and well-being. The Psychiatrist, 37, 167-170.

Marwick, AE. (2012). The public domain: Surveillance in everyday life. Surveillance & Society, 9(4), 378-393. http://www.surveillance-and-society.org.

Oravec, J. (2014). Craigslist in crisis: Issues of censorship and moral panic in the context of online communities. International Journal of the Academic Business World, 8(2), 1-11.

Shullich, R. (2012). Risk assessment of social media. The SANS Institute InfoSec Reading Room, 1-46.

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