Facebook and Social Networks

In the early 2000's a new online social networking culture emerged in which people communicated through a computer screen.  The most common social network is Facebook, which possessed over one billion users in early 2014.  This article deals primarily with Facebook- the most commonly used social network- but the main points apply to other social networks and instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp.

Social networks are excellent tools for sharing information among large groups of people, and for creating interest groups or around a common topic.  In recent years we have witnessed a revolution in people's ability to connect across the globe through social networks.  Social networks are extremely powerful, even in countries that limit the freedom of information.

Based on data collected in schools, the vast majority of Facebook users join the social network without direction or supervision.  Many elementary school children – as early as third or fourth grade- own a Facebook account, though they do not yet possess basic interpersonal communication skills.  Children are exposed to harassment and "Friend" requests from foreigners, and both younger and older small children are unaware of the privacy settings in Facebook that reduce such requests, as well as limit, identity theft and photos theft.  The digital experience greatly dominates its users, and they are not in a position where they can stop and think about each action they take on Facebook and weigh the harm against the benefit.  Children must first develop independent thinking to determine whether their activity on Facebook is significant or not.  For many youth Facebook and "online life" is confused with reality, and they lose sense of real time and place.  Research conducted at the Ohio State University and the British Institute of Biology Studies has found that prolonged surfing on Facebook has led to declined scholastic achievement, and hampered emotional development (The Marker, 20.2.09, 12.4.09).

In children and adolescents the shortcomings of social networks are quite evident; the development of virtual relationships at the expense of genuine ones; superficial communication; externalization of behavior to garner likes and comments; multiple virtual friends (many of whom are unknown) to create a sense of popularity and power; loss of privacy in through the sharing of pictures and personal information; and narcissism  through the frequent engagement in the design of one's personal profile.  Social networks also encourage voyeurism: glimpsing at photo albums of people with whom you have no personal relationship.  And even worse- social networks are places where pedophiles seek photos of boys and girls, and often contact them in an attempt to exploit them.

Harassment and Requests from Strangers

Using Facebook exposes children to dangerous scenarios such as receiving requests from strangers and harassment.  Requests from strangers can result in harmful relationships, lead to conversations about private matters, and even end up in exploitative situations.  The phenomenon of harassment even occurs among children, and is common among kids aged 10-15, and leaves a harsh impact.  Harassment sometimes occurs in revenge for something, or due to a desire to stand out at the expense of humiliating someone else.  Facebook has developed the concept of a "hate list;" a child seeking to exclude one of their friends can create a Facebook group whose sole purpose is to solicit hatred against another child.  The group lists the clicked "Likes" registered against the victim, and members of the group can leave a comment, even if they never even met the victim.  Because of the wide reach of the social network, the victim is accompanied by the group in private and in public.  Such harassment groups have even lead to tragic situations like the case of the late Davidel Mizrachi, who committed suicide at the age of 15 as a result of harassment and abuse at school and on Facebook.  Davidel's mother said that the phrase "my home is my castle" is no longer true.

In many cases children who have been harassed don't inform their parents or teachers out of fear or shame.  Develop an open dialogue with your child, and ask periodically how things are progressing. If signs of distress are evident, don't wait.  Act immediately.


Friendship is one of most significant factors shaping one's identity; the people one relates to, with whom one keeps company and shares experiences.  It is friendships in real life- not online- that determine one's character.  Studies show that the concept of a "soul friend" is little found among youth today.  If there is one area that the social networks have particularly harmed, it is the value of friendship.  Virtual friendships are increasingly replacing real friendships, and more and more children prefer virtual relationships with their minimal or no commitment over true, close friendships.  Studies indicate that today more value is placed on the quantity of friends over the quality; whereas one's many virtual friends are devoid of significant value, the illusion of self-importance is what matters more. Add to this the superficiality of relationships on Facebook, with its photo albums, posed cover shots, fragments of words and sentences.  The phenomenon of virtual friendships began with correspondence through messaging software and chat sites, but Facebook upgraded the phenomenon. Today WhatsApp has taken it to another level.  What has been learned from all this, is that virtual connections can complement relationships, but not take their place.

Those with low self-esteem sometimes use Facebook as a replacement for real relationships, only delaying their confrontation with the real issue.  Social pressure also pushes many to remain up to date with what's happening with the crowd; whoever is not connected is "out of touch." But using the term "friend" in the virtual world has cheapened the concept in the real world.  It is better to use the term relationships than friends.  Facebook does not create friends, but rather, contacts.

For observant communities maintaining separation between boys and girls, Facebook has allowed for a virtual mixing of the sexes, occasionally leading to real intimate relationships that would not occur otherwise.

A Protective Environment

While in the real world a child befriends people he recognizes, and develops relationships with them in an environment appropriate for him, on social networks he may befriend children who are not appropriate for him.  On Facebook a child can search through unlimited profiles and groups to which s/he has no natural connection. Even worse, harmful and pornographic content is mixed in easily among such profiles.  A child's natural curiosity may lead them to wander and stumble upon such content.  Even the best filter options cannot fully protect against this.

Identity Theft and Phishing

Another danger inherent in social networks is the danger of identity theft or phishing.  Identity theft occurs when a new account is created using the name and picture of an existing Facebook member, or by hacking into an existing account by stealing the password.  Phishing refers to the construction of a fictitious but plausible profile to draw the attention of a boy or girl similar in age.  Identity thieves or phishers (impostors) find a way to get into a social network and collect information of account holders on the same network.  Teens are then tempted to accept these thieves'/impostors' friendship requests.  Sometimes kids commit identity theft to play a prank on their friends.  In Israel a number of severe cases of sexual assault, rape and serious fraud were a result of identity theft.

Wasting Time and Addiction

Children and teens spend hours on Facebook without self-control and supervision.  They are attracted to the virtual experience of social networks, and it becomes an addictive end in itself.  Addiction is more common among girls who correspond incessantly.  Parents and teachers are generally unaware of the compulsive behavior of their children and students.

Privacy Settings

A survey conducted at elementary and high schools indicated that very small percent of kids were aware of the privacy settings, and even less used them in practice.  Privacy settings are designed to prevent outsiders from accessing content on an account, or from contacting the individual without permission.  Parents are even less aware of privacy settings, and it is imperative they become familiar with them and show their kids how to use them.  But it is important to remember that while privacy settings reduce risks, they do not completely prevent them.

Facebook Lingo

Facebook, like messaging software, reinforces the growing trend of weakening language.  The need to write abbreviated messages quickly, and in language used as a substitute for conversation, leads to the use of poor diction and language.  Correspondence found among children and youth often uses limited vocabulary, repeated letters for emphasis instead of using more precise words, misspellings and poor grammar, making the texts incomprehensible.  "My siiis!" and "Luvu!!!" are some examples demonstrating the degeneration of language as part of the broader culture that exists today, where comfort and ease come at the expense of quality.

Self-Externalization in Appearance and in Print

One common activity among children and teens is the uploading of photos and videos to Facebook.  It is easy to observe that this activity is usually designed to externalize and to express something of value. Widespread practice is photographed externalizing situations with emphasis on one's face, body movements and overall appearance.  The photos and videos of teen show a plethora of actions such as jumping in the air, running like mad, rampages, pranks, flashy dress, immodest poses, etc.  These are all aimed at impressing friends and receiving attention.  Doing so accustoms youth to strongly externalize behavior, and to strive to impress the other sex, and often not in a positive fashion.  Presentation of the outer self comes at the expense of one's inner character and personality.  Because adults are usually out of the picture kids are less inhibited, and many look for ways to test the boundaries and act in even more extreme ways.  And comments to these extreme photos and movies are usually equally extreme and brazen.  As the center of activity in the lives of youth today, Facebook has succeeded in developing a negative culture of self-externalization.

Damage to Family Life

The Internet and multimedia draw people into their own worlds, often at the expense of time together with family or friends.  The British Telegraph paper published a survey finding that the addictive use of Facebook has led to the deterioration of the family unit.  In many homes, the extended use of Facebook has led to great disconnects between relatives.  Facebook also creates tension and arguments over the shared use of a computer as family members compete for time to log onto Facebook.  And while Facebook connections have led to many marriages, it has also become a significant factor for divorce.  Its' continuous flow of updates allow no rest for the user who feels s/he must remain connected at all times.

Key Recommendations:

  • Make sure your child has developed sufficient social skills before opening a social network account.  (Facebook itself limits the opening of an account under age 13).  Many feel Facebook is not suitable for children under 16 years of age due to the ease of contact with foreigners.
  • Engage in a conversation to familiarize your child with the Facebook culture.  Explain the pros and cons, and discuss whether an account should be opened, and under what conditions.  (See our article, Open Dialogue as the Basis for Dealing with the Challenges of the Internet and Multimedia, in the Education and Parenting tab.)
  • Make sure your child interacts in real life with friends, engaging in real activities, to acquire social skills.
  • Refrain from disclosing personal information on a social media account.  "Tagging" of your name on a picture uploaded by someone else on the Internet can be removed.  You can also contact Facebook to request the deletion of a photo on Facebook that was taken from another Facebook account without permission.
  • Avoid posting very personal matters, which are visible to all.
  • Avoid uploading large numbers of photos. 
  • Avoid posting silliness.
  • Utilize Facebook's privacy settings.
  • Periodically review with your child his/her friends list to learn the level of the relationships to avoid multiplicity of friends simply as a symbol of social status, and to remove unknown or harmful friends.  Only accept known new friends.
  • Know your child's password so that you can periodically view your child's activity.
  • Avoid contact with strangers; avoid identity theft scams.
  • Never meet someone based only on written correspondence.
  • Encourage your child to share with you what's happening on his/her social network; ask if s/he has experienced harassment or offensive posts.
  • Beware of requests asking your child to unlock the privacy settings; beware of any requests for a cellphone number in order to claim a prize won.
  • Report harassments to Facebook and block them.  In severe cases, such as the receipt of pornographic material or proposals to meet, report to the police.
  • It is possible to receive alerts about harassing proposals and proposals with indecent content via Safebook from the Internet Rimon Company.  Some argue against tracking programs except in cases where there is concern that the child is in harm.  
  • Set a time limit for your child to be on a social network to excessive surfing and waste of time.
  • Remember that Facebook is a private company with tremendous resources and the ability to collect sensitive information and affect economic markets and other influences.  Consider this fact before deciding to connect to Facebook or share information.