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Social networking is the digital form of initiating, fostering and developing relationships with others using services such as Twitter and Facebook. Social networking services (SNSs) allow users to create user profiles and "friend" others (including strangers). Given their importance as information channels, social networking sites also permit the sharing of digital objects and pointers to useful information on the web. In many SNSs, users will confirm when they want to be friends with someone whether they are actual friends, family - or complete strangers. This is social networking in the digital age.
Many social networks offer privacy controls that permit their users to maintain at least some control over who can view their profile information. Being able to navigate privacy in social networks is one of the more important literacies to acquire in the web 2.0 world and because of so much digital interaction and sharing on the Internet. A recent social networking phenomenon using mobile devices is location-based social networking sites (SNSs). All kinds of informal social networking sites have existed on the Internet since its inception they but have increased in use and number in recent years. One of the problems with SNSs is that they collect data about members and share this information as social capital. The data and profiles are shared with members and companies. SNSs provide mechanisms to create personal pages and fill them with content such as blogs, digital photographs, music, short video clips and more. Networks are formed around this content as members link their pages to those of their friends and search through websites in search of new friends who might share their interests.
Membership on SNSs is on the rise. Facebook is one of the most popular websites on the Internet - second only to Yahoo in the number of page views per day with over 600 million members. This is two or three times the traffic of Google per day! Facebook is also rated the top site for 18-to-24-year-olds; these numbers are increasing.
Misuse of Facebook
For all its benefits, the rise of social media in healthcare brings two diametrically opposed forces into conflict: the transparent public nature of social media and rigid compliance guidelines designed to protect patient privacy. The challenges of social media in health reside in the gray areas of usage such as when nursing students in the United States were expelled for being photographed with a placenta or nurses who posted about their disdain for treating cop-killers on Facebook. Policymakers must go beyond writing social media policies and engage health professionals about usage. In 2010, a university student went to Facebook to vent his frustrations over getting his car towed; he engaged several hundred followers to comment about a specific towing company but they retaliated with a lawsuit. Here is the full story in the New York Times. Increasingly, there are complaints leading to lawsuits in the major social media information channels.
For several years now, SNSs have been used by health professionals for social and professional networking. SNSs are increasingly viewed as a way to manage institutional knowledge, disseminate peer-to-peer (P2P) information and highlight institutional achievement. Some examples of medical SNSs include LinkedIn, Sermo and Within3. Dedicated medical SNSs require that all members be screened against state licensing board lists. In addition, SNSs are of interest to pharmaceutical companies who spend "32 percent of their marketing dollars" to influence opinion leaders in medicine, and within medical social networks. Some techno-savvy health librarians have started to experiment with microblogging using Twitter, a social networking tool that lets your contacts know what you are doing at any given time via phone, instant messaging or on the web.
There are several ways libraries can utilize social networking tools. Since library work inevitably involves interactions with communities of users, social networking is a digital extension of our liaison activities. This work may be more important in the years ahead given the ubiquity of online access, the limited use of physical libraries, and the need to share knowledge with our clients, and each other. Librarians can use these tools to assist clientele to share information across their network of friends. By creating discussion groups and communities of practice (COPs) on MySpace or similar resources, health librarians can meet some of the information needs of health professionals. For instance, there are discussion groups for users who want to discuss treatments of specific injuries. Librarians working with the general public might also consider recommending or even setting up support groups for a particular condition or a disease, like the MySpace Cure Diabetes group. Specifically geared for use in the library environment is a tool called Library Thing (LT). LT is a library social network site and a place for members to register the books they are reading; it promotes social interactions, book recommendations, self-classification, and monitoring of new books as well.