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What are the pros and cons of social networking sites?


Drawbacks to Social Networking
Groups like Anonymous use social networking sites to organize real world protests like this one against the Church of Scientology.
Groups like Anonymous use social networking sites to organize real world protests like this one against the Church of Scientology.
AP Photo/Chriss Weeks

Perhaps the biggest online social networking drawback is that it makes identity theft easier. In order to create a profile on a social networking site, you have to share some information about yourself. Many sites allow you to decide how much information to share. Some give you options to hide information like your e-mail address or birthday -- information that could give unscrupulous people the chance to send you spam or steal your identity.

The problem is that if you don't share any information, none of your friends will be able to find you on the site. That defeats the purpose of a social networking site in the first place. On the other hand, if you share too much you may discover that someone else is masquerading under your identity. They might even be destroying your credit rating or attempting to access your e-mail or financial information.

Another danger is that scammers use social networking sites to trick people into downloading malicious software (malware). A common tactic is to use social engineering. Social engineering plays on human nature to get results. For example, you might receive a link from a friend claiming that it leads you to a funny video that you appear in. Following the link brings up a message saying you need to install a video player before you can view the clip. But the video player is actually a virus or Trojan horse program that can harm your computer. Once your computer is infected, the scammer will use your friends list to try and spread the malware even further.

Social networking can be both overwhelming and addictive at the same time. If you join every social network and add hundreds of people as friends, you'll receive updates constantly. It'll become difficult to see any one individual's updates. You'll have a lot of noise to filter out if you want to find something specific. And you may find yourself checking for updates several times throughout the day when you really should be doing something else.

The good news is that the pros for social networking outweigh the cons. And with a few healthy habits, you can avoid or minimize the drawbacks. Just remember to be careful and responsible before you sign up!

Learn more about social networking through the links on the next page.