By Lenita Krejci
Staff reporter

Facebook celebrated its sixth birthday last February with more than 400 million active users and is now one of the largest social networking sites ever.

As Facebook reaches people all over the world, it is setting a whole new trend on communication. Many newspapers now publish their reporters’ articles on social network sites such as Facebook and twitter. According to the American Journal Review, Roanoke Times set up a system of referrals from Facebook which made people aware of their paper.  In January of 2009, this system brought in 1.72 percent of total customers, and by September of the same year, it had jumped to 4.83 percent of their customers.

Southwestern College will soon expand on the same idea. Tony Marolf, coordinator of media and social networking, said, “I’d like it to be used as a way to communicate between students and administration and for prospects to be able to do most of the things from Facebook if they want to, such as view the college or talk to counselors and using Facebook as sort of a supplement.”  This would mean that prospective students would be able to take a virtual tour, visit with a campus counselor, and apply all from the convenience of Facebook.

Social network sites make it possible to stay connected and up to date with friends. Social networking has also raised concerns since your information can be accessed by a few clicks on the keyboard. The Quill reports that many reporters feel that if they can find the information on your profile, they can also put it in print. Employers can also look at potential employee’s profiles if they are not set to private. The dangers are that anything you put on your profile is open to the world forever.

So how do you guard yourself from these dangers?

The first is simple. Be sure that you are careful with anything that you put on the web. “Don’t be surprised to find that people expect you to have certain values and beliefs when you have advertised yourself that way,” said Tracy Frederick, associate professor of communication.

Next, it is important that you learn about the privacy settings on your social network account. “On most sites they’re not too difficult to use and don’t take too long to set up,” said Marolf. This is how you can control how much information is shared and who can see it.

Although social networking is for communication, it is not the most ideal form. A recent technology and mental health poll was reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, over 2,207 undergraduates at 40 colleges were surveyed.  The Chronicle reported that few people who have a great number of Facebook friends feel comfortable reaching out to them in a crisis. One finding stated 40 percent of Facebook users say they have at least 500 friends on Facebook but hardly interact with most of them. While a quarter of them said they would be relieved if they shut off their cell phones and computers, 57 percent said a social-media blackout would make them more stressed.

So what is the difference between friends and Facebook friends?

“I actually feel more social with my friends that I see face-to-face than I do Facebook friends,” said Marilyn Craft, elementary education major.

So even though we may be using social network sites, are we really being social?

Marolf said, “I think people are using social networking as a substitute for face-to-face interaction. I guess you’re able to talk to more people, but I don’t think that those connections are usually as strong.”

Social networking can be addictive and is a great way to fill time. As Marolf said, it can also become a substitute to many other things if we let it.

“Be aware that people will portray themselves as they want to be perceived,” said Frederick. “We do this in face-to-face conversations, but it’s easier to pick up on that in face-to-face than on the internet.”

So with all the cons as well as pros, is social networking here to stay?

Marolf said, “It’s undeniable that it’s becoming a bigger presence and it’s just getting bigger.”

Lenita Krejci is a senior majoring in speech and theatre education and musical theatre production.  You may e-mail her at lenita.krejci@sckans.edu.