Evolution of Social Networking Services and Their Privacy Intrusion

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Since the dawn of civilization, social connections and networks have been a keystone of humanity. Social connections are a key part of success, from feudal alliances to modern day, who you know has proven to be just as, if not more important than what you know. With the advent of the Internet, socialization has changed with the times. The ability to communicate to millions of people over the world instantly has lead to new social phenomenon, new methods of marketing, new questions about privacy, and massive changes to how people interact with each other.

By some definitions, the first social network was University of Illinois PLATO system, with social media features added in 1973. PLATO had many features of a modern social network such as: forums for posting, instant messaging services, personal blogs, a rudimentary friends list in the form of a content whitelist,as well as some of the first chat rooms. Other proto-social networks were created, such as local electronic bulletin board systems. Many electronic bulletin board systems companies later moved onto the internet, such as AOL(The Atlantic, 2016). The first recognized online social network was GeoCities in 1994, and later Classmates in 1995. Classmates was a proto-FaceBook, branding itself as the “yearbook of the future”, and introducing friends lists and profiles. Closer still to facebook was Six Degrees, the first social network to include school affiliations. The first business social network was Ryze in 2001, which claimed to have 500,000 users in 200 countries. Friendster was the first social network to reach mainstream success.

Launching in 2002 the site was one of the first to include friend recommendations. Marketing itself as a way to meet people, as well as for online dating, the sites users quickly outgrew the sites server resources. Eventually, users left the site for its newer competitor, MySpace. MySpace was able to quickly outpace Friendster due to being built in ColdFusion, which was able to be updated faster than Friendster’s backend systems. Myspace allowed users many customization features, such as music playlists, custom page themes, and other such features. MySpace received some backlash for its users cyberstalking each other, and being accused of purposely allowing – or even encouraging – cyberbullying. Nevertheless, MySpace became the top website of 2006, with a market value of $12 Billion. MySpace’s success was not to last, and by 2008 Facebook was the largest website on the internet(CBSNews). Facebook itself was also mired with controversy, though mostly regarding its use of its users data.

The collection of data about people, demographics and the general population from social media has become a hotly debated topic. From questions about user privacy, to whether companies can ethically use peoples’ data, and if people need to be notified if their data is used. Data from social networks, and other social media can be used for many things. From user experience features such as targeted advertisements or search suggestions, to large scale modeling of demand or product performance. Many concerns have been raised over constant location tracking, search tracking, and that these ad targeting algorithms can sometimes know what you want, before you even want it. My people have said that that type of constant tracking is dangerous to society, especially when that data is then sold to other corporations, likening the constant tracking to Big Brother in Orwell’s 1984.

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Selling, analysing and exploiting said constant data has grown a number of industries around itself. Companies are hiring specialist contractors as well as internally in order to maximize their social media presence. Social networking has created the concept of a company “going viral”, or being amusing or interesting enough to be found by thousands and shared to millions. Many companies strive for this, trying to capture and market the internet zeitgeist for brand recognition.

Attempts at this include the oft surreal advertisements posted on the official Denny’s tumblr page, or the participation of Wendy’s in twitter feuds on its official account. Other companies decide that no publicity is bad publicity, and purposefully garner hate due to their actions, actions specifically chosen based on loud but controversial internet demographics. Nike’s sales increased after a boycott was called on them, involving many people burning nike products after Kaepernick was featured in an advertisement(Time). Gillette also banked on internet backlash leading to free publicity with their “The Best We Can Be|Gillette (Short Film)” video; the video was tailored to get a reaction from online anti-feminists. The increase of social networks introduced businesses to the concept of something being “memeable”, and made something being “memeable” a desired quality. Some companies have even been accused of artificially generating controversy, such as Keurig; accused of starting a boycott against itself after pulling advertisements from Sean Hannity’s tv show.

The concept of “astroturfing”, or manipulating a conversation by making certain ideas seem more or less popular than they are in actuality has been known for years, but it’s come to a new height in the age of social media. Paying “influencers” to show off products, or tell their audience nice things about a service, especially in the grey zone of digital goods, is a big market. While laws have been put in place to mandate sponsorship is disclosed, the actual sponsorship deals themselves are hidden. Social media can also be moved by buying followers, or friends, or likes, or whatever form of internet point one desires from large bot farms. These services, while against the terms of service, are widely available and legal. Moreover, these services create thousands or millions of bot accounts; bloating user numbers and increasing the profitability of a social network. These services don’t mearly target FaceBook and Twitter, investigations are ongoing involving their use in things such as the FCC comment system, or political advertisements. My own social media footprint is small. I have a facebook account that hasn’t been updated in almost a decade, a Twitter account with no tweets, and a LinkedIn that

I have barely touched. My LinkedIn account I will have to update for potential employers, possibly by adding links to my Github and Bitbucket accounts, so employers can see coding projects I have worked on. I have debated deleting my FaceBook account; while the process is easy and easily canceled, the data remains on FaceBook’s servers for upwards of three months,messages will remain forever, logs of data will be kept by FaceBook, and not having an account can be suspicious to employers in and of itself. Will any of this change how I use social media? No, because I don’t use it.

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