The Social and Ethical Implications Connected with the Development of Social Networking Websites

Janusz Wielki


Despite the Internet being a relatively new phenomenon, in the case of its business dimension and the impact it has had on the functioning of contemporary organizations, it is the subject of dynamic and permanent change. The first phase of its development was a period when all types of organizations started including it in their business strategies and in a growing number of process connected with achieving their business aims. Because of this, it was a time when many companies established web sites, to varying degrees of sophistication and when they sought internet technology- based tools to help them redesign their business processes connected with customer service and cooperation with business partners. Companies started to fully take into consideration the opportunities relating to the development of the electronic space as a platform for conducting business activities.

This first phase stared in 1995 and ended in 2001, with the bursting of the dot-com bubble as a result of excessive and unrealistic expectations of the capabilities of the Internet and its impact on the economy. But the withdrawal of organizations from the Internet, which was shown, among other issues, by the drop in spending on on-line promotion, was in fact only temporary. This was due to the fact that in the short period of time since its inception, it had become too important a platform for conducting business activities, to be dropped. Quite simply, contemporary, networked organizations, found they were not able to function without it.

The years following have been a time of even more dynamic development and further utilization of the Internet by all types of organizations. The year 2001 became a key date in the separating of the phases of its evolution, because it marks the development of Web 1.0 into Web 2.0.

As was mentioned earlier, the second phase of the Internet’s development started after the collapse of the dot-com bubble and with the first decade of the new millennium. At that time the Internet, and particularly its multimedial part, the Web, gradually started to differ significantly from the first phase. It is connected with the development of technologies often called Web 2.0 technologies and the rapidly growing involvement and creativity of the users utilizing them. Hence participation has become its most important feature, and O’Reilly, who in 2005 introduced the term “Web 2.0”, has called it the “architecture of participation”. Beside participation, its other main characteristic elements are collectivism, virtual communities and amateurism.

The basic elements and components of Web 2.0 include:

  • new generation search engines (e.g. Google),
  • Wikis (e.g. Wikipedia),
  • peer-to-peer,
  • mash-ups,
  • Web services,
  • blogs,
  • podcasts,
  • videocasts,
  • RSS,
  • virtual worlds (e.g. SecondLife),
  • social networking Websites.

Undoubtedly social networking Websites are one of the most dynamically growing and key components of Web 2.0 and this paper is focused on implications connected with their development.

The paper is composed of four parts. In the first part an overview of the situation connected with the phases of the Internet development is briefly provided.

The next part is focused on Web 2.0 as the second phase of the Internet’s development. It has been briefly characterized and its basic components has been presented.

The following two parts form the core of this paper. First, the social networking Websites has been characterized and then their typology is presented. Next, opportunities connected with their utilization are provided. They include three areas of organizations’ activities:

  • marketing,
  • human resources management,
  • knowledge management.

Next, challenges connected with social networking Websites development are presented and discussed. They include the following issues:

  • the risk of decreasing employee productivity,
  • dangers relating to company security,
  • the challenges connected with the proper and efficient functioning of an organization’s IT infrastructure,
  • dangers of accidental leakage of data or information,
  • the possibilities for the conscious or unconscious negative impact on the image of a specific organization.

    In all cases special attention is concentrated on social and ethical challenges and implications connected with social networking Websites development and their impact on functioning of contemporary organizations. All these issues are supported by numerous examples from various sectors. In the case of both opportunities and challenges, the impact of social networking Websites on organizational dynamics and culture is analyzed as well. It is made taking into consideration the main characteristics of the Web 2.0 i.e. participation, collectivism, virtual communities and amateurism.

    In the final part of the paper, the most significant conclusions and suggestions are offered.


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