Online Social networking platforms like facebook, twitter, Skype, yahoo messenger! WhatsApp! MySpace, Windows Live messenger, Google talk, AOL instant messenger and Blackberry messenger have become so much part of modern life to the extent that many wonder how they had coped before these cyber resources were invented and made readily available to all. In this report, AMARACHI EGBEOGU, Abuja and PAUL DADA, Lagos examine the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the phenomenon.
According to wikipedia, a social networking service is an online service, platform, or site that focuses on facilitating the building of social networks or social relations among people who share interests, activities, backgrounds, or real-life connections.
It consists of a representation of each user (often a profile), his or her social links, and a variety of additional services. Most social network services are web-based and provide means for users to interact over the Internet through such cyber tools as e-mail and instant messaging.
Social networking services have certainly changed the way we share information in radical, explosive ways that even their inventors might not have envisaged. They have made life a lot easier by putting a vast volume of information at the disposal of just anyone who could access the Internet and has greatly improved on both the time and cost of communication and doing business.
Businesses, organisations and individuals have come to depend very much on the opportunities offered by social network platforms like facebook, twitter, Yahoo Messenger, Myspace, Badoo and Blackberry Messenger to mention but few popular ones.
Writing on the power of social networking service, an online website, everyday-wisdom.com, stated: "It is cheaper to use online social networking for both personal and business use because most of it is usually free. While personal use is rather simple for anyone, the business functions are underestimated by many. In a social networking site, you can scout out potential customers and target markets with just a few clicks and keystrokes, adding a boost to your usual advertisements and promotional strategies.
If you want to fine-tune your business, then this is the way to go, whether on a budget or not."
However, despite the almost limitless opportunities available through social networking service, there is a dark side to the phenomenon. As in the real world, dangers abound on the social networking platforms in cyberspace. These include online scams, cyber-stalking or harassment, risk of failure of security in both personal and business context.
The criminally minded often seize on such personal information as the user's name, location, age and gender, credit card or bank account details to commit crimes, including harming the owners of such information, despite security measures put in place by most of the social networking websites.
Mrs Vivian Okonji, an Abuja-based banker, told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that she met her husband on facebook three years ago.
She stated:" I remember searching for an old high school friend via facebook and then stumbled on someone who shared the same first and last name as my high school friend. Out of curiosity, I sent a friend request. Today I am married to the namesake of my high school friend."
Hadasa Abraham, a mass communication undergraduate at the University of Abuja, explained how she used the social networking service to save her friend's life.
She said: "My best friend was diagnosed with a heart condition two years ago and was scheduled for an operation that year.
While her family tried to raise money on their own, I sourced for funds through facebook, twitter and Blackberry messenger and to the glory of God, people were moved and they responded. I was really moved by the power of social networking."
Tunde Aregbesola, a 31-year-lawyer who is into real estate said social networking services have been a very helpful part of his business.
His words: "I put up properties for interested clients to assess. I have sold many properties with the help of networking on the social sites".
Aregbesola concluded that social networking service had been a good tool for his line of business.
While Okonji, Abraham, Aregbesola have derived good dividends from using social networking service on the Internet, the experience of Kehinde Kariola has put a sour taste in her mouth following a case of hacking and identity theft perpetrated against her.
Kariola told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND: "Someone hacked into my two facebook accounts at the same time for two weeks. The person has been making a financial gain of my two accounts by telling people he was robbed and so on.
"I just gained access to one of the accounts now while the other is still denying me access. I got to know when he tried defrauding my brother. I've changed my password twice but the person hasn't stopped.
This hacker and identity thief had sent a distress message masquerading as Kariola purporting that she was robbed somewhere and needed money wired to a bank account to leave the location. This is one of the infamous ways fraudsters in the country employ to defraud unsuspecting friends of social networking websites users.
To counter this obvious scammer's intention of using her reputation to con her friends and family members, Kariola sent this message online: "Please deny his requests. I'm currently in UNILAG. I'm alive and healthy I know my parents and siblings number if I am stranded."
There is also the infamous "yahoo yahoo" scam often attributed to young Nigerians who send email messages claiming to have millions of dollars they what to launder abroad for safety purposes or aiming to establish bogus romantic liaison with lonely men and women seeking intimate relationship with the sole aim of defrauding them.
The scammers use a variety of tricks to get their victims, including changing their personality and identity, creating false images and making outlandish claims. They also impersonate prominent Nigerians to hoodwink their victims. Only last Wednesday, General Overseer, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor E.A. Adeboye, alerted the nation and the world to an on-going use of his name and identity to defraud people using online social networking services.
Confirming this, a source who pleaded anonymity told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND: "I know of a young man using a female porn star's pictures as his own identity on Blackberry messenger, giving the porn star a different name and all. He confessed that he bought the porn start's pictures from a site on the internet using a credit card in order to deceive unsuspecting men and lesbians who might pick interest in her."
There is also the concern about how slangs and fragmented words, or "textspeak," used on the social media affect the written language and the language skills of faithful users, especially the youths.
"What is troubling to those who value the written word is the developing slang and overall disregard for grammar and punctuation.
It has become common to gloss over any sizeable amount of text and look for the bolded statements that will give us information quickly. We want lean, witty one-liners instead of buckling down and reading an article or book," an article on firstbestordifferent.com observed.
A slice of the dangers lurking in cyberspace, especially on social networking website, hit the country last month with the tragic news of the alleged murder of a 24-year-old young woman, Miss. Cynthia Osokogu, in a Lagos hotel room by a 'friend' she met and developed a cyber relationship with on facebook.
The only daughter of a retired Army general and postgraduate student of Nasarawa State University, Miss. Okosogu was allegedly lured to Lagos by another student, Nwabuzor Okwuoma, 33, using a business transaction as bait.
She met her untimely death by strangling in the course of being beaten, raped and robbed allegedly in the hands of Nwabuzor and his accomplice, Ezekiel Odera, 23, both of whom are currently standing trial in a Lagos court alongside two others.
For many active Blackberry users, strange stories abound on this social networking platform. One of the most recent of such stories was about an undergraduate from a private Christian university in Ogun state who thought she had met her prince charming on facebook.
The man in question took her on a dream vacation, buying her the most expensive of all gifts including the latest Blackberry device, ipad and wigs made of human hair so much beloved by fashionable women.
In the course of this romantic trip, however, the young lady fell pregnant and her man disappeared into thin air.
When she realised this, the girl, who reportedly shared her story on Blackberry messenger, became distraught because she did not have any concrete information on her prince charming, like where he lived or worked.
Worst still, she tested positive to HIV.
Paedophiles are also on the rampage in cyberspace, especially on social networking websites where they hunt for unsupervised and vulnerable children to abuse online or even lure away from home, kidnapped and kept as sex slaves. A handful of children have fallen victims to these depraved minds globally, especially in the developed world.
Nigerians who spoke with LEADERSHIP WEEKEND on the merits and demerits of online social networking websites harped on the need for the Federal Government to protect the citizenry from harm by policing cyberspace in the country even better than policing in the real world.
Mr. Godking Chikaking said: "We are living in a scientific world. And any scientific advancement is to make life easier. However, many people have abused these inventions. For example, facebook is to help us communicate and to stay informed. If I have gathered information, I can relay it to my friends so that we can make contributions towards the growth of the society."
Chikaking linked some abuses of social websites with lax parental supervision of minors, which he said had continued to wane in the country.
He said slack "parental care has contributed to the loss of moral values, which is manifest in the way the social media is abused."
Also, Mr. Segun Ogundipe, said the Federal Government should establish an institution to censor the contents of social websites and block undesirable ones as is the practice in some countries like China.
But Mr. George Opara, a social scientist believed that there were limits to controlling abuses in cyberspace and advocated personal restraints and caution by users of social networking websites.
He also charged Nigerians to stay informed on the antics of criminals on the prowl in cyberspace.