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Social Networking Websites - A Fair Playing Field For All? Part 2 Of 2

Dr Peter J D Scott

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Peer review is central to many sites where members have an opportunity to rate the work of others. This aspect has come under criticism in sites aimed at young people, particularly Bebo where claims of online bullying amongst schoolchildren are quite common. Many sites operate with moderators, either appointed by other users or by the site operators. The vast majority of sites are self-policed and operate quite successfully in this respect.

All these social networking sites sound wonderful but some come at a cost. Sites such as WAYN have rekindled some old school relationships and resulted in breaking existing ones. Users with little self-control spend hours and sometimes days connecting with other users, keeping their elaborate home pages up-to-date and checking their statistics. More serious is the increasing number of identity theft reports, made easier by the copious amount of details that some users display publicly (particularly amongst third level students).

However, my main issue is more central - that of ageism. All sites request your age when registering and some have no option to opt out of displaying it in your profile. The justification of these sites is an attempt to provide other people within your own range as well as your interests. Stumble Upon is one such site although you do not have to show your age. My main concern is with their ‘contact’ or ‘people online’ page, allegedly showing people sharing interests. I am in my mid-40s but they never show anyone aged 40 or over and invariably produce a screen of beautiful-looking things in their twenties (I realize that some people might consider this an advantage!). Conversely, WAYN allow users to configure age bracket and gender when searching for that elusive friend while MySpace permits extremely detailed searches based on specific age, network, interests, gender and location by country.

All of which inspires me, had I the skill and ingenuity, to produce a social networking site aimed at the over 50s or 60s. The scope is clearly there and, doubtless, specialized advertisers might be tempted to supply a new and emerging market on the internet. Otherwise, I would encourage you to explore the increasing array of social networking sites but exercise caution before exposing your online persona!

A musicologist by profession, Dr Scott writes two travel guides in his spare time. _Hidden Dublin_ contains over 200 unique pages, giving advice and tips of many aspects of his native Dublin (Ireland). _Hidden Italy_ is a more recent venture, offering an alternative look at regional Italy. He was awarded his PhD by the University of Durham, UK in 2005 and also holds the Associateship of the Royal College of Organists diploma.


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