I was giving presentations at a school in Pennsylvania (last week) and got to the point in my presentation with parents and staff in the district about the risks and benefits associated with online social networking. When talking about the issues, I try to be reasonably impartial – simply presenting the facts as I see them. When pressed, however, I generally concede to my audiences that I believe the benefits to outweigh the risks – especially when these sites are used appropriately and responsibly. One concerned parent in the audience had trouble with this. His argument was that the risks clearly outweighed any potential benefit from sites like MySpace and Facebook and that they should therefore be avoided altogether by adolescents. Instead of arguing with him, I decided to open it up to the audience and several folks identified a number of potential benefits of social networking. So clearly there are benefits. The question remains, however, do the benefits outweigh any potential risk?
I don’t know. We are in a unique position as researchers in that we see the best and worst of online social networking. We talk to adolescents (and adults for that matter) who have been harassed through these sites. On the other hand, we also see creative writing and other expressions of adolescent identity depicted on the sites. So what do you think? Weigh in with your thoughts about whether or not we should encourage youth to participate in online social networking web sites.