Serious Social Networking

One might assume that networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter were primarily created as a platform to connect people for social purposes. That isn’t entirely inaccurate.

Whether members reside on different continents or under the same roof, social networks have an established presence in individuals’ day-to-day lives, serving as a means to maintain constant interaction, socialize with “friends,” reconnect with old acquaintances, provide up-to-the-minute updates via personal profiles and pictures, share links and even network professionally.

But the buck certainly doesn’t stop there. The function of the social network has transcended its original intent. Though it’s impossible to sum up its innumerable functions in just one column, I thought I’d jot down some of the most interesting and innovative ways networks have been used.

Here are two fascinating cases, courtesy of CNN.com.

In exhibit A, policemen in New Zealand actually used Facebook to catch a thief.

It started out when a burglar attempted to break into a safe at a local pub in Queenstown. It was summer, though, and in the tiny, enclosed room, the intruder buckled under the sweltering heat and removed his mask and gloves. Much to the police’s delight, the man then inadvertently looked directly into a surveillance camera before bolting out the door.

The tech-savvy cops took the camera images and posted them Facebook. In less than a day, the thief was outed by social networkers who recognized him.

In a similar incident — this one in Melbourne, Australia — a group of five ne’er-do-well diners decided to make the most of a dinner at a local seafood restaurant. They sampled some of the restaurant’s finest wines and oysters and quickly ran up a hefty $300 tab, after which they pulled the infamous dine-and-dash routine, leaving the restaurant owner to swallow the bill.

Instead of getting mad, the restaurateur got even. He recalled some small talk at the dinner table that night, during which one of the five diners mentioned his ties with a former waitress at the restaurant. The astute owner contacted the waitress, browsed through her Facebook page and identified the perpetrator.

Learning about incidents such as these ought to make us even more vigilant in our general online conduct.

After all, a CareerBuilder.com survey conducted last year revealed that more than one in five employers make use of social networks such as Facebook and MySpace to get a more holistic view of prospective candidates. In fact, almost a quarter of all hiring managers who took the survey revealed they were persuaded to hire job seekers whose online profiles left a good impression.

It seems that building and maintaining a credible online identity on these networks can pay off in the long run.

Another increasingly popular and resourceful use of social networking sites is citizen journalism. Not only have these sites evolved into a forum for laymen to capture news from a personal perspective, they also allow average Joes to report breaking stories.

Tech-savvy would-be journalists have covered incidents ranging from the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, to an earthquake that rattled southern California, to the U.S. Airways plane landing in the Hudson River in New York in January.

In fact, a man who happened to catch a glimpse of that Hudson River landing immediately took a picture of it on his iPhone and uploaded the image to his Twitter account. Within a few hours, the page was flooded with views.

What other uses for social networks can we come up with? Needless to say, the very nature of the Web — ever-changing, malleable and unpredictable — opens up a realm of possibilities. 

– Deanna Hartley, dhartley@certmag.com

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Deanna Hartley

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