A social network is an online mechanism through which relationships can be established or maintained. Loosely speaking, any situation in which technology is employed to help manage relationships can be viewed as a social network. That could include anything from online multiplayer games to person-to-person text messaging. However, when we use the term “social network” we most often think of sites like Facebook.5
While Facebook is the clear market leader in social networking, there are actually several hundred online social networks with literally billions of users worldwide. There are, broadly speaking, two types of social networks: 1) Those intended to foster existing relationships; 2) Those intended to help you “meet” new “friends.”
Where social networks serve to enhance existing relationships, the value can be tremendous (such as sharing family pictures among geographically distributed family members). For social networks intended to help perfect strangers establish online relationships where none existed previously in the real world, a number of problems arise. As an example, in 2009 MySpace found and removed more than 90,000 registered sex offenders.6 While social network companies have become more aware of the potential dangers (and liabilities) of the “meet new friends” model, significant dangers still exist. Social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, with strict social mores about not soliciting “friendships” with people you don’t already know in real life, tend to be significantly more tame (and consequently more safe) than those without such cultural constraints.