What Socialization Processes Occur in Social Networks

Social networking has a surprisingly long history which dates back to the original use of the military, government, scientific and educational internets to pass along personal messages and to have discussions. When the systems were in place to allow chat, various forums developed for individuals with shared interests or schools. The increasing sophistication and ease of use of the more developed sites, such as the Well and The Globe transitioned into fully intuitive sites, such as Friendster and Epinions, and eventually into the monsters of social networking: MySpace and Facebook.

The first concern about fully realized social networking was expressed: Young, still developing people were losing the natural form of face to face interaction. Yes, some young people were isolating, retreating from social lives that they probably did not have to begin with, and spending all of their free time on line.

But most young people are in school for a good part of their day, still love to go to the malls and the parks, and still manage to get together and socialize with real world contact through church, school and other programs. Even the advent of online photo uploads has not replaced the thrill of showing up at a physical location, and showing off in the new outfit or after the traditional hours of primping that adolescent males and females are notorious for doing when they develop their independent senses of style and personal expression.

Another factor is that only those who can afford the costly setups and service fees that allow social networking are doing significant amounts of such activity. Those individuals are far more likely to be exposed to other costly activities, events, and travels in life than their poorer counterparts. In other words, certain classes of individuals do not have the need to spend all of their time in social networking, since they have the financial means and the social pressure to carry out other responsibilities and activities in life.

People simply have not completely abandoned the desire to mix it up with real people in the real world. It may be that some of the more negative and annoying socialization factors of social networking have actually caused some people to get away from the computer and to engage more in the real world. Being harassed, spammed, becoming bored, finding that others have cut back their time on line, or just becoming involved in other activities is often a cause for breaking from what used to be an exciting and joyful experience.

Individuals who are undergoing socialization processes in social networks are not more inarticulate because they must read, write and spell well enough for forums that go beyond chat , and into post and response or blogging. They may be even more functionally literate than some, since they are required to read and comprehend as well as to write. In some cases, argument, debate, even flame wars can go on, where skills at articulating a position are developed in a forum where no one can interrupt and start a fistfight.

Deviant, dangerous, and perverted socialization, however, is enhanced by three factors: expectations of anonymity, a sense of power that comes from being able to operate under multiple identities, and the ability to upload false information and photos that can disguise a person’s appearance, age, or gender.

There are dysfunctional and dangerous socialization processes where problematic behavior in the real world school environments intrudes into the social network, including gang activity, hazing, bullying, sexual predation, encouragement to suicide, drug distribution, and organized antisocial behavior. This can, in turn come back out of the virtual world to be expressed in the real world.