The thing about social networks

According to a new Pew report, 55% of online teens have created a personal profile online, and 55% have used social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook. This in no way resembles a bulletin, but there is one hugely important piece of information contained in this report: two-thirds of teens who have created a profile say that their profile is not visible to all internet users. In other words, you have to be invited into their network in order to view their profile, something that drives some parents and the Media 1.0 types absolutely bonkers.

It’s information like this, however, that puts the whole social networking phenomenon in perspective. One, it shows that teens are a lot smarter than we give them credit for being. Two, it punches a sizeable hole in the worrywarts’ self-serving (can you say NBC Dateline?) rants that these places are seething hives of treachery and evil. Three, this statistic — more than anything else — screams that teens want and respect privacy, and for that, we should all be grateful.

Steve Rubel gets it wrong when he suggests that this statistic shows teens aren’t “being social.” They’re being very social; they just don’t want outsiders shoving messages — or worse — in their faces (there’s a name for that, and it’s called e‑mail). Parents may lament this, but if parents aren’t allowed in, it says volumes more about the parents than it does the teens.

Those of us who work in media must burn into our minds the message from the creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, “The Web is more a social creation than a technical one.” I’ve learned this not only by paying attention but also by experience, and instead of looking for the bogeyman all the time, we’d do well to study what’s really taking place behind the walls of the millions of these closed networks of teens. Far from the evil we suspect, life is the thing about social networks — young people supporting each other, sharing their lives with each other, and growing together.

This is textbook postmodernism: people crafting their own “tribes” and turning to each other instead of trusting institutions. And if they do this as teens and young adults, those habits will become lifetime habits, and what does that say about our culture?

Volumes, methinks.


  1. […] The thing about social networks […]

  2. […] Terry Heaton has some nice insights about social networks (aka, Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, etc.). Read him here. Bookmark to: Filed under: Snippets by Jeff @ 5:11 pm | | Top    […]

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