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What are they twittering about?

cartoon picture of boy hugging computerWhat are these social networking sites that we keep on hearing about?

Why do children and teens seem content to sit in front of a screen and type messages to their friends instead of going out and seeing them face to face?

Surely this is no suitable alternative. Is this yet another example of technology becoming a hindrance rather than a help?

Social networking sites are a relatively new phenomenon, allowing users to keep up to date with everything that their friends are doing. There are hundreds of different kinds, but Facebook and Twitter are the most popular ones.

The basics of Facebook are that each user has to sign up and then they receive their own profile page. Every time you go onto the site you sign in and all of your network friends can see that you are online. Your profile page is a place where you can post your thoughts, what you are doing or even what you had for lunch, and then your friends can comment on these posts. People upload photos from their digital cameras and phones which are then open for all of their friends to view and comment on. To become friends with someone on the site you just have to find them, which can be done in a variety of ways, and request to become friends with them. It is then up to them to decide whether to accept or decline your request.

Twitter is very similar, but is more about following everything that your favourite celebrities are up to. Stephen Fry, for example, is a regular user and if you choose to you can view every one of his posts, thereby following his life and his day to day commitments.

There are many different arguments for both the positives and negatives of social network sites. They describe themselves as being social networking sites, but in reality are they an antisocial pastime? Sitting on a computer by yourself looking at what your friends have been doing that day is surely not a social activity. There is also the security question that has to be raised; what is to stop a na�ve child posting details about who they are and where they live to a complete stranger? They do, however, mean that your distant cousin living in Australia is now not so distant; you can discover what he had for lunch that day or even view the photos of him from his work's Christmas do the night before and all for free. A process that by phone or letters would either be impossible or cost an astronomical amount.

All in all these sites can be a useful and cost effective way of communicating with family and friends if used moderately and properly. However, if they are used to excess they can take you away from everyday reality instead of keeping you in touch with it, and it is only a matter of time before the first clich� online social network site wedding takes place, therefore proving that the online socialising craze has gone too far.

Tom Shipman