The history and development of the online social networking is closely interconnected with the development of the internet. The internet, which developed in the early 1990s enabled people to share and access information from a variety of sources. The e-mail enabled communication between people who may be thousands of miles apart.
However, the development of the current online social networking can be traced back to the development of the Bulletin Board services (BBS). This system enabled the users to download and share information with other users. However, the limitation of this system was that the users needed to be connected to the central system via a cord and a modem was used to access the information.
The setback of this system was that it could only transmit text messages. Another limitation of this system was the fact that it was slow and transmission of messages used to take a long time (Nickson part 2).
During the same period, another communication system known as Compuserve was also in operation. However, this system was different from BSS in that it allowed the users to communicate in real time with other users via a forum (Nickson part 2).
Another system known as America online (AON) also used to provide services during this period. However, its services were much more advanced that the other two and resembled to the services, which are now provided by internet. The services provided by the AON led to the development of the modern online social networking (Nickson part 2).
Classmates.com can be considered as the earliest online social networking site according to the features, which are found in the modern online social networking sites. It developed soon after the development of the modern day internet. It enabled the users to be virtually reunited with the people who they schooled with. However, the main limitation of this site was that it allowed connection only between people who schooled together. The system could not enable virtual communication of the other people (Nickson part 3).
After the launch of Classmates.com many other social networking sites have been developed. These online social networking sites offer different features, which are convenient to their users. Some of the online social networking sites, which were developed during the beginning of the social networking, have survived up to date whereas others have collapsed due to various reasons.
An important observation is that the emergence of new online social networking site and user-friendly features has led to the decline of the users of the social networking sites or eventual collapse. The popularity of most of the online social networking sites is restricted to specific areas. The number of users of the social networking sites is usually small in other areas.
Currently, the online social networking site, which has the most users, is Facebook. This site has a considerable large number of users in most parts the world. Others, which also have considerably large number of users include, Myspace and Twitter. However, the polarity of the former is usually localized in specific areas. For example Myspace is has largest social networking site in the US but it is relatively unknown in other parts of the world (Nickson part 3).
There are also other social networking sites, which are usually formed in specific areas. Due to their feature, they promote usage by people with a specific culture or usage by people in a specific locality. The area in which the online social network usage may relevant may range from an institution to a specific region.
The features offered by various online social network services are usually varied. However, most of the features are mainly concerned with entertainment of the users of the online social networks.
Online social networking in Saudi Arabia developed due to the increased use of the internet among the citizens. The Saudi Arabian community is mainly Muslim and very conservative. Different online social networks are available in Saudi Arabia.
Some of the online social networks are based locally (in Saudi Arabia) whereas there are some, which are mainly for the Arab community of the region. There is also a huge presence of the international social networking sites in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi, being an Islamic society has also developed various online social networks, which mainly conform to their cultural and religious beliefs.
To achieve this Saudi also have online social networks, which are restrict the use by only members of a certain gender (either male or female). This is a unique feature of online social networks, which can only be found in Saudi Arabia and other Islamic based countries. The main social networks found in Saudi Arabia and command a large following are discussed below.
Facebook – This social networking site was initially used by the Harvard university students. However, this site was later opened to members of the public and is currently the largest social networking site in the world (Nations Para 4).
LinkedIn – this is an online social networking site primarily set up for businesspersons and professionals. This online social networking site is among the largest in the world. This online social network site allows the users to connect with other users of the same professional. The site also provides a section where the users can browse jobs or business opportunities. This online social site is highly preferred by the businesspersons and professionals (nations Para 10).
American bedu – This is a blogging site set up in 2006 by Carol Fleming, an American woman married to a Saudi husband. The blog concentrates mainly on Saudi issues (The Story of an American Bedu – Carol Fleming 2010).
MSN messenger – this is an international blogging site, which is mainly preferred by Saudis due to its secrecy, and the one cannot view the information on other people.
Saudi woman – this is a social network site, which is mainly concerned with the issues of the Saudi and mostly women. A person places his blog and anyone can respond to the blog.
Jeeran – this is a blogging site for the Arabs. It touches all the issues of the Arab countries.
Arab twitter – this is a version of twitter which is an international online networking which is modified to Arabic interface. The Arabic interface was developed so as to accommodate the perception of the Arabic society. However, the content of the social networking site is similar to the content found in all the other online social network sites in all over the world.
Friendster – this is an international social networking site. It allows the users to interact in various ways. It also allows the users to play a variety of games online and download a variety of music online. This site mainly concentrates on the entertainment aspect of social networking.
There are also other online social network sites, which can be found in Saudi Arabia. However, these sites have limited popularity. The most popular social networking site in the Saudi Arabia is Facebook. As at April 2010, the number of people who use Facebook to chat had exceeded two million users. This therefore implies that Saudi Arabia is the second largest country in terms of usage of the social networking site in the Arab world. The respondents also indicated that they belonged to different social networking sites.
The average number of OSNs, which the respondents belonged to, was two, with the other common OSNs being Twitter and Friendster. However, even though they belonged to different social networks most of the respondents mainly used Facebook and the use of the other social network sites was restricted only for specific purposes. Some of the people usually visit the other social networking sites mainly to check on the latest news and blogs.
Factors that influence the Saudis to join the online social networks are usually varied. Most of the middle aged and schooling Saudis join into the online social mainly to catch up with their friends. This group will join the social network sites due to peer influence, as social networking is the “cool” thing of the moment among the age group.
Some of the people also join the social networking sites so as to be able to communicate with their relatives who may be far away. The youth who are working use the online social networks for business or work related purposes. The women mainly join the social networking sites so as to remove boredom during the day and chat with their friends.
The culture of Saudi Arabia is very strict concerning the relationships between men and women. The young men and women are not allowed to freely mix with the women anywhere, where in the streets or even in some learning institutions. The urge of the young men and women to meet and make friendships with people of the opposite sex is the main reason why most people are involved in the social networking sites.
Here the young men and women can freely chat and make friendships without the strict supervision of the members of the society and the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice police. Some of the young people in Saudi Arabia also join the social networks to help remove their boredom (Sterns Para 2).
Most Saudis who are involved in the social network are mainly use the internet to read news and use the social networking sites to comment on the news (Social Media Habits in Saudi Arabia 2010). Among the people who mostly comment on the online social networks are women. The women even have their own online social networks, which are restricted to men. The young people are also highly involved in the online social networks. They usually use the online social networks to create friendships and improve on the existing ones.
The main reason that makes some of the people not to comment on the social network sites is due to the government monitoring of the activities of the social networking sites.
The Saudis perceptions of the importance of the social networking sites are that it helps remove their boredom. This is the perception of most women who get into the social networking sites.
There are some organizations, which believe that they can use the online social networks to undertake their businesses, as it would in the long run be beneficial to them. Some organizations have even created profiles of their businesses in the social networking sites. These organizations use the social networking sites to communicate with their clients and employees (Shahid Para 4).
The Saudis also use the social network sites to socialize with the people of the opposite sex. Through the social networking sites, the Saudis intend on getting good husbands and wives (Sterns Para 19). This would otherwise have been impossible due to the strict nature of the Saudi society concerning the intermingling of the people of the opposite sex. Lack of means of socialization makes most of the marriages in Saudi Arabia to be arranged by the relatives.
The culture of Saudi Arabia prohibits women from freely intermingling with the men. This has led to the development of various online social networks that are made for women, discussing mainly women issues. The women are generally very actively involved in the discussions of the various issues posted on the online social sites.
The young working Saudi men also join the online social networks to create connections with other professional who are in their field of operation.
The online networking site, which the young men mainly join, is LinkIn. Through this site, the men help in advancing their careers and create connections, which are very vital for their professional and career advancement.
Saudis also consider the privacy of the information posted on the various online social network sites when joining the sites. The lack of privacy of the information, which is posted on Facebook, makes some of the Saudi to use the MSN messenger to chat with other people due to the privacy of the social networking site (Social Media Habits in Saudi Arabia 2010).
The main reason for some of the Saudi to consider the privacy of the information is due to the strict government regulation of the content of the social networking sites. The society also regulates what the people view so that it may be offensive to the Islamic culture of the country.
Most of the people mentioned above join the specific networks to obtain certain information. However, they retain their membership in the various other online social networks that they actively participate. In the case of Saudi Arabia the main online social network, that different members belong to is Facebook.
Most of the younger generations have no objection to the use of the social networking sites. They actively participate in the online social networks and keep in touch with their friends using the online social networks.
However, some of the people of the older generation strongly object to the use of the social network sites. This is because Saudi Arabia is a strict society where the actions of people are closely monitored. However, the people of the older generation cannot be able to monitor the action of people on the social networking sites.
The parents cannot be able to monitor who their children are chatting or communicating with on the social networking sites. This makes some of the parents to strictly prohibit the use of some of the social networking sites and sometimes even use violence on the kids to prohibit them. A good example of the violence is the case where a parent killed his daughter due to chatting on Facebook.
Some members of the society are of the view that the social networking sites are immoral according to Islam. This is because most of the online social network sites allow the free integration of the men and women in the sites. This is immoral since Islam prohibits the free integration of the men and women in social activities. This has made some people develop online social networks, which are specifically designed for use by only a certain gender. Most of these online social networks, which are gender based, are mainly designed for use by the women.
The government also considers some of the online social networks to be against the social norm of the society. Therefore, the government closely monitors the activities of the social networking sites and may even ban the sites, which it thinks are going contrary to the culture and religion of the country. The government even banned the social network site Facebook claiming that it conveyed information that was against the culture of the Saudi Arabia society.
Some employers do not encourage the use of the social networking sites as they reduce the productivity of the employees as the employees spend most of their time on the OSNs thereby robbing off the organization the time that the employees would have used to work (Olzak Para 5).
For this part, we will use the details of the use of Facebook, the largest social networking site in Saudi Arabia. The information on the use of the other social networking sites is somehow biased as the sites are mainly used by people of a specific age and the people subscribe to the membership of these online social network sites in order to obtain different information.
However, even these people are members of the other online social network sites most of them have in addition to the sites subscribed to membership of Facebook, the largest online social network site in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, for the study of the demographic factors of the usage of online social networks we will use the data on Facebook as it is used by all the people of Saudi Arabia with the other social networking sites forming a small fraction of the usage of the online social networks.
Chart 1.1 use of Facebook according to age
Among the users, roughly 53 percent of the users are aged 19-29 years old. Most of the people in this age bracket are either in college or they have just started working.
The people in this age bracket also use Facebook to make friendship with the people of the opposite sex, as Facebook does not restrict its usage to members of only a certain gender. Twenty-five percent of the users of Facebook are between the age group of 30-45 years. This group comprises of mainly married people and most of them are parents.
In this group, most of the people engage in Facebook to do activities that are mainly related to their kind of jobs. Most of the women who are in this group and are engaged in Facebook are mostly there to chat with other women to reduce the boredom.
Seventeen percent of the users of Facebook are aged 18 years and below. These users are engaged in the social networking site mainly to make friends and for entertainment. Most of the people in this group engage in online social networking sites, as it is fashionable and due to peer influence.
This group is usually very active in producing content in the social networking sites. However, an important factor to note is that most of the members of Facebook who fall under this age group do not use their real name so to protect themselves from parents who may be predatory.
Only 4 percent of the users of Facebook are in the age group of between 46 and 64. Very few people are involved in the social network site as the older generation generally regards the social networking site lowly. The people of this age group who engage in the online social network do this either due to the nature of their work.
However the people who are aged 65 and above do use the online social networks as they generally do not use technology. These people are very conservative and usually take a long tome to embrace advancement in information technology.
Basically, 66 percent of the users of Facebook are male, 32 percent are female, and the rest are not defined. There are more male users compared to female, as the females are generally restricted to use the online social networking sites. The females also have various online social networks, which are specifically designed for use by the women. The Saudi women are also not very outspoken and hence would not join the online social networks.
Most of the users of Facebook do not define their relationship status (69 %). 19 % of the users show state that they are single. 8 % state they are married.
Most of the users do not state their relation status so as to maintain their privacy. This is because the information posted causing their relationship status may be used against them by their seniors or the government. An example is when a girl states that she is in a relationship, the parent sees the information, and he has not consented to any relationship by the girl.
Some of the people also do not define their relationship status so as to make friends and associate with other users freely e.g. a man would not like to be involved in chatting with a woman who is engaged or married since it is against the norms of the society. The reverse is also true for girls engaging with men in the online social networks.
The use of the online social networks has many risks. However most of the people continue to use the online social networks some oblivious of the risks whereas others do not know the risks involved in the use of the online social networks.
The government regulates and monitors the content that is found in the social networking sites. The government may prosecute and jail some users if they are found to have comments, which are against the culture and religion of the people of the country.
The parents also monitor the content of their children in the social networking sites. They mainly try to protect them from socializing freely with the people of the opposite sex as it is against Islam. If the parents find the children chatting with people of the opposite sex they may result to severe punishment as was the case when a Saudi girl was killed by her father due to chatting with a boy.
This has made most of the girls to drop their last names in the profiles of their online social networking sites. Most of the girls do not also put their real pictures on their profiles. This prevents other people from determining the identity of the girls. The information shared on the social networking sites is also not secure and may be used by different people against the users of the social networks.
The use of online social networks also poses great risks to organizations that use the social networks to conduct its businesses. The social networks are prone to attack by various viruses that may access the information of the companies using the online social network. This is because most of the online social networks do not integrated security systems to protect the users and the information, which is found in the users’ computers.
.The employees of different companies can also use the information posted by their employees concerning different issues against the employees (Harpe p 5).
This is because the information posted on the social networking sites is not private. The employees may use the information that may be sensitive as a basis for even sacking of the employees. The employees also use the information on the profile or the postings of the people when they are hiring new employees. Therefore, the postings of certain people may deny them the opportunity to get employment.
The postings of other people who are associated with another person may also make the former get into trouble if the person posts information, which some people regard as not conforming to the culture of the society.
Online social networking is a very common phenomenon throughout the world. The activity usually has many advantages and disadvantages. The society of Saudi Arabia should embrace the activity as it has the potential to help in various areas of the society. During the research, a common phenomenon that I came across is the close monitoring of the activities of the social networking sites. This monitoring prohibits development, responsibility, and the general well being of the society and it should therefore be minimized.
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