Whether we are playing at the beach, going to a movie, or just hanging out, friends are a huge part of our lives. Recently, more and more students are using social networking to keep in touch with their friends. More than 85% of colleges students use social networking sites. Chances are that you have a Facebook account and you've signed on today. Social networking sites provide previously impossible communication and interconnectedness between individuals scattered across the globe. Social networking sites continue to experience rapid usage growth, providing millions of individuals with the ability to communicate, interact and share information. While there are many positive uses of such technology, social networking has its downsides as well. Participation in social networking activities can expose you to a variety of risks, including embarrassment, cyber-bullying, identity theft, and access to inappropriate content. Social networking can also be addicting, drawing you away from more productive, "real life" activities and relationships.
85% of college students have a Facebook account, the majority of whom sign on at least once a day. This is a higher percentage than the 82% of college students who use a course management system (like Blackboard). There are several dangers and pitfalls you should be aware of as you engage in online social networking activities.
Exposure to Inappropriate Content
Facebook users share over 850 million photos with each other every month. The images, videos, website links, and messages shared on social networking sites may be inappropriate, vulgar, obscene, and even pornographic. You should be as careful choosing your friends online as you are choosing your friends in the real world. Do not associate with those who persist in sharing inappropriate content with you. And never share or forward such content yourself.
Personal Identity and Reputation
Elder Russell M. Nelson has reminded us of our identity as children of God, “May you know your identity, who you are and who you can become; may you establish your priority, held high and protected from erosion; and may you qualify for blessings of the Lord to be with you, to bring joy to you—His faithful sons and daughters—and to your posterity.”
You should be as equally aware of who you are online as you are in real life. Remember the admonition to "stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in" (Mosiah 18:9). Facebook is certainly included in "all places." Be careful about the messages you post, the pictures you share and the image you project of yourself. Employers are increasingly inclined to check applicants’ online profiles before hiring them. Even more importantly, those who know what you stand for and believe in are watching you.
When you engage in social networking activities, protect your reputation and identity. You should set your privacy settings such that personal information is not available to strangers. You might not even want to share personal, private information with some of the people you know. Be cautious and careful as you decide what to upload, forward, and share. Posting too much personal, private information about yourself can make you a target for cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying. Predators regularly troll the Internet looking for personal information they can exploit to find new victims.
Your identity—who you are and what you stand for—is your most precious possession. Do not let others tarnish it or assume it in your place. Elder Nelson observed, "Some people on life’s journey forget who they really are and what is really important. Without sure identity and priority, blessings that matter most are at the mercy of things that matter least."
As cell phone cameras have become pervasive, it is increasingly common to snap and share pictures of you and your friends. Social pressures might tempt you to take inappropriate pictures of yourself. When faced with such temptations, remember Paul's admonition to the Corinthians: "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? … The temple of God is holy, which temple ye are" (1 Corinthians 3:16–17). This problem has become pervasive enough that President Monson felt compelled to address it in General Conference. He warned against "utilizing the Internet for evil and degrading purposes . . . My brothers and sisters, involvement in such will literally destroy the spirit. Be strong. Be clean. Avoid such degrading and destructive types of content at all costs—wherever they may be! I sound this warning to everyone, everywhere. I add—particularly to the young people—that this includes pornographic images transmitted via cell phones."
The average Facebook user spends about 20 minutes on the site every day. Some users spend much more time than that. The negative effect of wasting too much time on social networking is obvious. If you spend so much time on Facebook that you neglecting school work, "real world" relationships, and personal gospel study, your social networking activities are doing more harm than good.
The Lord has commanded us to be "anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness" (D&C 58:27). If we spend too much time on any activity to the extent that it prevents us from attending to our highest priorities, we will, to our profound regret, discover that we have spent "our labor for that which cannot satisfy" (2 Nephi 9:51).
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has warned against the tendency to "focus on the insignificant at the expense of the profound." He admonished us that "the things of eternal value ... deserve our attention. We cannot and we must not allow ourselves to get distracted from our sacred duty. We cannot and we must not lose focus on the things that matter most." Social networking activities, in moderation, can add enjoyment and value to our lives and our relationships with others. But when you engage in these activities too much, you run the risk of giving up that which is most important for that which has comparatively no value in your life.
Living a Virtual Life
Elder David A. Bednar recently warned against the danger of trading in our physical, mortal lives for artificial, virtual ones:
Today I raise an apostolic voice of warning about the potentially stifling, suffocating, suppressing, and constraining impact of some kinds of cyberspace interactions and experiences upon our souls. . . .
If the adversary cannot entice us to misuse our physical bodies, then one of his most potent tactics is to beguile you and me as embodied spirits to disconnect gradually and physically from things as they really are. In essence, he encourages us to think and act as if we were in our premortal, unembodied state. And, if we let him, he can cunningly employ some aspects of modern technology to accomplish his purposes. Please be careful of becoming so immersed and engrossed in pixels, texting, ear buds, twittering, online social networking, and potentially addictive uses of media and the Internet that you fail to recognize the importance of your physical body and miss the richness of person-to-person communication. Beware of digital displays and data in many forms of computer-mediated interaction that can displace the full range of physical capacity and experience.
If we are not careful, we can spend too much time “socializing” online while neglecting the relationships and activities in the real world, here and now.
- Do not post private information such as your social security number, your mother's maiden name, or bank and credit card information. Use caution when posting your address or phone number. Do not give your phone number to someone you have never met. Phone numbers can be traced to your address.
- Only post information that you are comfortable with others seeing (such as people outside your network, or even potential and current employers).
- Be cautious when making contact with individuals you do not know. These interactions may have serious consequences. Some individuals are not truthful about who they are on their profiles. Don't be deceived. Stay safe and just connect with people you already know.
- Use privacy settings to restrict who can access your profile.
Social Networking Sites
Interaction with people on the Internet can cause you to share personal information such as your birthday, permanent address, phone number, mother’s maiden name, etc., which may be used to exploit your identity.
- Modify privacy settings.
- Restrict sharing of personal and sensitive information on the Internet.
- Be aware that an individual could create a fake profile of you to try to connect to your friends and family (often called “identity hijacking”). This fake identity could lead to identity theft. According to Ian Amit, director of research at Aladdin's Attack Intelligence Research Center, the potential damage for this new type of identity theft will be "devastating, both on the personal level by creating difficulties in employment, ruining social and professional connections, damaging reputations; as well as on a financial level, such as stealing customers, corporate data."
- Do not create fake profiles or assumes others’ identities online.
Predators and businesses may solicit inappropriate content and relationships on the Internet which cause spiritual, emotional, and monetary damage.
- Avoid contact with people you don’t have a “real” relationship with.
- Be cautious when you “add” a friend and make sure you know who they are.
Social networking sites may contain rampant instances of pornography (images, videos, and text), language (crude, vulgar, etc.), and propaganda (racism, hate, violence, inappropriate social issues, etc.) that are not consistent with the BYU Honor Code.
- Get an Internet filter.
- Modify content restrictions.
Cost (Time and Money)
Apart from negative content that can be found on social networking sites, these sites can also be time consuming. People can spend many hours each week on social networking sites, often neglecting their work, family relationships, school, etc. Spending an excessive amount of time networking on social sites, can sometimes lead to social dysfunction.
Although most social networking sites are free, many advertisements and products await the user once they enter the site. For example, many social networking sites offer gifts for friends and family members, widgets, VIP profiles, etc. eMarketer forecasts that total social network ad spending in the United States will total $1.1 billion this year.
(See Also Phishing)
Phishing is a scam where Internet fraudsters send spam or pop-up messages to lure personal and financial information from unsuspecting victims.
- Use trusted computers – “Phishing” computers may record information you type (e.g. usernames, passwords, etc.). Use reliable and safe computers such as campus library and personal computers.
- Don’t send personal and sensitive information via the Internet unless you absolutely trust the entity.
“May You Have Courage,” Pres. Thomas S. Monson, 2009 General Young Women Broadcast.
Although this is a remarkable period when opportunities abound, you also face challenges which are unique to this time. For instance, the very technological tools I have mentioned provide opportunities for the adversary to tempt you and to ensnare you in his web of deceit, thereby hoping to take possession of your destiny.
As I contemplate all that you face in the world today, one word comes to my mind. It describes an attribute needed by all of us but one which you—at this time of your life and in this world—will need particularly. That attribute is courage.
“Things as They Really Are,” Elder David A. Bednar, CES Fireside for Young Adults, May 3, 2009.
The adversary attempts to influence us both to misuse our physical bodies and to minimize the importance of our bodies. These two methods of attack are important for us to recognize and to repel.
When any of Heavenly Father’s children misuse their physical tabernacles by violating the law of chastity, by using drugs and addictive substances, by disfiguring or defacing themselves, or by worshipping the false idol of body image, whether their own or that of others, Satan is delighted. To those of us who know and understand the plan of salvation, any defiling of the body is rebellion (see Mosiah 2:36–37; D&C 64:34–35) and a denial of our true identity as sons and daughters of God.
Now, brothers and sisters, I cannot tell you all the ways whereby you may misuse your bodies, “for there are divers ways and means, even so, many that I cannot number them” (Mosiah 4:29). You know what is right and what is wrong, and you have the individual responsibility to learn for yourself “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118) the things you should and should not do and the doctrinal reasons why you should and should not do those things. I testify that as you desire to so learn, as you “watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives” (Mosiah 4:30), you will be spiritually enlightened and protected. And according to your faithfulness and diligence, you will have the power to discern the deception and repel the attacks of the adversary as he tempts you to misuse your physical body.
Satan also strives to entice the sons and daughters of God to minimize the importance of their physical bodies. This particular type of attack is most subtle and diabolical. I want to provide several examples of how the adversary can pacify and lull us away into a sense of carnal security (see 2 Nephi 28:21) and encourage us to put at risk the earthly learning experiences that caused us to shout for joy (see Job 38:7) in the premortal existence.