New Opportunities, New Risks -the Perils of Social Networks; Sites like Facebook and Twitter Have Become a Ubiquitous Part of Our Lives. but, Writes Simon Gaskell, There Can Be a Dark Side to Social Websites

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

New Opportunities, New Risks -the Perils of Social Networks; Sites like Facebook and Twitter Have Become a Ubiquitous Part of Our Lives. but, Writes Simon Gaskell, There Can Be a Dark Side to Social Websites


Byline: Simon Gaskell

IT'S been with us only a handful of years, and yet recalling a time before it dominated our lives is becoming increasingly difficult.

Social networking is everywhere, with a plethora of different sites open to users as young as 12 years old.

A weird and wonderful array of web spaces, including sites exclusively dedicated to knitting, shared dreams and beards, are thriving online.

Yet it was only 2006 when Twitter didn't even exist and 2003 that Facebook was still a harebrained scheme by Harvard undergraduate, Mark Zuckerberg. Social networking's presentday prevalence has seen a spate of recent stories which have highlighted their hazards.

And now experts say a tipping point has been reached and the way we share information via social networks needs to be seriously reviewed.

Last week David Calvert, from Liverpool, was forced into hiding after being wrongly "identified" as James Bulger's killer Jon Venables.

A viral hate campaign against Mr Calvert was launched hours after John Venables was recalled to jail and included a 2,500 strong Facebook group called "John Venables is David Calvert and lives in Fleetwood... kill the ****" On Monday, Peter Chapman, 33, was jailed for life for the rape and murder of County Durham teenager Ashleigh Hall, after grooming her on Facebook.

Chapman - dubbed "The Facebook killer" - posed as a handsome, muscle-bound teenage boy called "Peter Cartwright" to befriend 100 girls on the site.

He began chatting with Ashleigh online, before exchanging mobile numbers and arranging a meeting.

Ashleigh told her mum she was staying at a friend's overnight before Chapman picked her up from her home, and drove to a deserted lay-by where he killed her.

Paul Arnold, the 24-year-old whose picture Chapman used to dupe girls, said: "Something has got to be done about these sites.

"How can somebody just use another person's photo?" Last month a Cardiff inquest heard how Welsh teacher Emma Jones, killed herself after naked pictures of her appeared on Facebook.

Miss Jones, 24, from Caerphilly, was working in an international school in Abu Dhabi and feared she could be jailed over the pictures because of the Muslim country's strict laws.

She was loving life teaching eight-year-olds at the International School of Choueifat in Khalifa City, but it's claimed when a colleague called George in the IT department saw the pictures, she feared he would report it to the authorities.

Emma's mother Louise Rowlands told the inquest that her daughter's ex-boyfriend Jamie Brayley had posted the photographs, something he denied. Deputy assistant coroner Thomas Atherton recorded an open verdict after Emma drunk poisonous cleaning fluid while packing to leave to return to Britain.

Emma's mum, Mrs Rowlands said: "She was very happy and loved her job. She loved her life too much."

The serious consequences that have resulted from social networking becoming a more integral part of our lives have sparked calls from experts for vigilance online.

Kelly Page is a lecturer in digital marketing at Cardiff University and social networking is her area of special expertise.

She said: "The one thing I think we need to look at with any type of online social networking is that not everything is private and secure but we often have this perspective that it is. …

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