Social Networking websites utilise applications which help connect friends using a number of tools like blogs, profiles, internal email systems and photos. Well known sites include Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. These have become an influential part of contemporary culture.
WHAT IS A BLOG?
A blog is a website on which items are posted on a regular basis often focussing on a particular subject such as food, local news or politics; or as an online diary. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. Since its appearance in 1995, blogging has emerged as a popular means of communication, affecting public opinion and mass media around the world.
WHAT IS A FORUM?
Forums are areas in which participants can leave messages, often in response to a topic. Often these messages are moderated, and the chat is not instant, as with chat rooms and instant messenger. Some social networking sites also provide users with an opportunity to create or join common interest groups, which also utilize forums. Young people often use these to share views on contentious issues and to motivate others to support their cause, making them great for debating.
WHAT IS AN APPLICATION (APP)?
An application is an enhancement that a user can choose to add to their profile to improve and increase interaction with other users in their contacts or networks. Young people enjoy using applications to share their interests with others. Examples include 'Top Friends', 'Where I've Been', 'Super Poke!', 'The Simpsons Quotes'.
WHAT IS A NETWORK?
A network is a general group on a social networking site based around a common characteristic for instance a region, workplace, university or secondary school. If a user joins a network then they can find out more about the other users within the same network.
HOW DO CHILDREN USE SOCIAL NETWORKING & BLOGS?
Firstly, they sign up and create their own profile or 'space'. Often, these contain standard sections such as 'About Me' and 'Who I'd Like to Meet' and also include things like Music, Films, Sports, Scared Of and Happiest When. They can also add specific personal details such as physical appearance, and the school you go to. Most sites also have a blog (see 'What is a blog?' for definition) where children can write daily thoughts or include articles which they find interesting.
An important element in social networking is young people's ability to customise their 'space', e.g. by changing the colour of their profile, adding applications to their profiles, uploading images or pictures onto their profile. One of the pictures can be chosen to be the "default image" and this will be seen on the profile's main page. There is often also an option to upload videos as well – including music videos and personally recorded films.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS TO CHILDREN WHEN USING SOCIAL NETWORKING?
Although chatting online can be great fun, young people can sometimes find themselves in situations where they can feel out of their depth. Risks can arise when children give out their personal details to strangers. The online world can often seem very different to the real world for young people, and they can be tempted to say and do things that they wouldn't dream of if they met someone face to face. This can include giving out personal information such as mobile numbers and pictures of themselves.
If they are talking to another child there is a risk that they will misuse this information - for example, by texting abusive messages to the child, or by posting their image on a website; but there is obviously a greater risk if the person that they are chatting to is an adult. Unfortunately, paedophiles - adults who want to meet young people for sex - use the internet, often with the intention of talking with and meeting a child. Young people can be naive to this risk, and often feel that they are invincible, or that 'they would know if someone was lying'.
Children will often 'swap friends' through IM, and therefore can be chatting to strangers who they feel they trust because a friend of a friend knows them. IM is a very intimate form of communication - more so than a chat room with many participants, and therefore child abusers will often use this as a means to extract personal information from a child.