6 September 2012

Nigeria: Dangers in Social Networking

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Social network sites have become perilous as a result of the activities of criminals. Amaka Eze writes on its dangers and experts' opinions

Recently Nigerians were faced with one of the worst dangers that the social network sites can generate; the death of Cynthia Osokogu, who fell victim of one of the social network hazards through 'Facebook'.

Facebook, one of the largest social network site in the world, started in 2004 by a Harvard University student, Mark Zuckerberg. The site had a sudden rise and became a huge software platform that houses a lot of applications and millions of games and groups as well as connects thousands of people across the globe.

Primarily, the goal of some of the users of these sites, is to have as many friend and connections as possible, which sometimes makes them throw all care to the wind; adding friends, or sending messages without a second thought about the consequences. Unfortunately, so many people have fallen victim of fraud and armed robbery as was the case of Cynthia, a young lady and student of the University of Nassarawa, Nassarawa state.

The death of Cynthia indeed shocked many Nigerians, especially the youths, as mixed reactions have continued to trail the role played by Facebook and Cynthia's so-called Facebook friends in her death.

The misfortune, which raised eyebrows, has made many question the overall wisdom behind social networking and the misguided attitude used in communicating on that medium, especially where the youths are concerned.

Still, some people who spoke with THISDAY, believed there was absolutely nothing wrong with the social network, because many prospective business partners have being connected and are still being connected by the medium. Others simply frowned on the wisdom behind making friends and visiting total strangers.

Basics of a Social Network

Social networking or social network as it is popularly referred to, is that area of the internet, which nearly every computer-literate person indulges in. It doesn't matter who the person communicates with; the fact remains that almost everyone is contactable via at least one of the social networking portals.

The Facebook, Twitter, Blackberry Messenger (BBM), Yahoo Messenger and Skype, are some of the networking sites common to Nigerians. These are innovations, meant to close the communication gap in an ever evolving society not just with the young generation but with people of all ages. They are amazing media for people to connect and relate with one another, long distances notwithstanding.

The social network platform however, is certainly not without its dangers as some of these sites attract so many people, most of whom are ignorantly unaware of the need for online security and protection. This is because, the sites have become a tool used by scams, fraudsters, and other criminal-minded people to cheat unsuspecting and innocent individuals and by falling victim to these criminals, you are not only endangering yourself, but also the people around you.

Individual Opinions

Most social networks allow users receive or send friend requests to people they never knew, making them fall victim to unscrupulous elements that hide behind good names and fake pictures to cheat unsuspecting people.

Some online users who spoke with THISDAY were of the opinion that they had no issues receiving social network requests from strangers.

A secondary school teacher, Mrs. Oluwabumni Anthony, stated that the growing popularity of social media amongst the Nigerian youth has become an issue of concentration for students as the love for Twitter and Facebook is causing difficulties for students attention spam in the school.

She said: "In this era of Blackberry phones, both the young and old are seen, clinging to their phones, every minute of the day." Calling on parents to be more cautious of who their children relate with on the social networks.

"There are truly endless scams people have pulled, and will try to pull off on the social networks. There are thousands and thousands of Facebook impostors out there looking to make an easy buck or harass people they don't know. Social networking has hidden dangers for youths, and they must be guided on the dos and don'ts."

Anthony further said: "With the social media, everything has becomes truly social. Our youths make friends with thousands of people online, and in most cases they don't even know who that 'friend' is.

"Social networking has some certain levels of danger for users, even the well experienced once. Aside the fact that something's can go wrong with our social network contacts, we must also realise that data online can be traced to individuals more easily than in the physical world.

"When we give out more information that is unnecessary on this medium, or indulge in some activities we should not, it could be used for evil purposes. Someone could go through our pages and decide that you are 'big fish enough to be scammed," she cautioned.

On her part, Mrs. Isioma Chukwuma, told THISDAY that: "Few people seem to realise or even care about the possible dangers of social media. Our online habits are changing rapidly from a closed, private behaviour towards an open and sharing culture. While this brings us lots of good, it seems we are still very naive about its possible dangers."

According to Isioma who was very bitter about the death of Cynthia, "Nigerian youths and indeed everyone who goes on online must be very careful as regards the kind of friends they make on the social media, and how they relate to total strangers too."

Calling on the Nigerian youths to be cautious, Isioma said: "Everything known about someone can and will be used against that person at a particular stage of his life as long as it is on the social network. Accepting unknown friend requests from strangers can be detrimental because that 'your friend' could turn out to be a criminal or something worse in the near future which could harm you directly or indirectly."

However, Mr. Johnson Korode, a 300 level student from the Lagos State University had a different opinion. He said: "I have no problem making friends with strangers online. I have over a thousand Facebook friends, and twitter followers and I hardly know half of them," he said.

According to him, the benefits of the social media outweighed its disadvantages. Especially if one is cautious. "Meeting friends and even dating on the social media is good, else we won't have the large number of social networks we have.

"It is a way to bring people together from far and near. That is what makes the world a global village, and unites people from different social background, class, ethnic groups and religion, "he said.

Expert Opinion

The Executive Director of Paradigm Initiative, Mr. Gbenga Sesan , believed social media would remain a communication channel, were lots of executives, senior professionals, business personnel and students, amongst others, meet.

According to him, "It is just a medium, so it shouldn't be blamed for whatever issues people have with it after they connect through it. People meet in various places and we can't blame the space where they met for the vices that follow whether they are scammed or not.

"As with any space, social media channels come with their own etiquettes and safety cautions. The first rule is that one should never assume that online persona is the complete picture. Even offline, people reveal true colours when we get to know them better. The value of quality (and sincere) time cannot be replaced by "like" buttons or re-tweets of direct online messages."

He said: "Social media users should be careful with individuals who have no known connection with your real life network. If someone you meet online is the brother to a cousin of your former classmate, you can easily check with them before taking risks such as meeting new online friends alone for the first time."

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