The term “social networks” refers to internet platforms on which one can exchange ideas with other members of the network. The best known in Germany include Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, XING, Instagram and the video platform Youtube.
- The term originally comes from social science. There it is used to denote the structure of relationships between individuals and groups.
- The network members design their profile themselves by enriching it with personal data, hobbies, interests, preferences and photos.
- As a rule, registration and participation in a social network are free of charge. The internet platforms are mostly financed through advertising and sponsoring.
According to digopaul, the term originally comes from social science. There it is used to denote the structure of relationships between individuals and groups. This was carried over to the Internet: Here, too, platforms on which people or groups exchange information and maintain contacts for professional or private purposes are referred to as social networks.
User profile and other network functions
The exchange and the maintenance of contacts take place via a personal user profile. The network members design their profile themselves by enriching it with personal data, hobbies, interests, preferences and photos. Pin boards, guest books and the ability to send messages and leave comments on other user profiles form the basis for maintaining contacts and communicating within the network. Other typical functions of social networks are contact lists or address books as well as notifications about new pictures or newly published information.
Social networks in numbers
More than 35 million people in Germany now use social networks, around 75 percent of them have a profile on Facebook. The networks are a daily topic, because eight out of ten users access their profile at least once a day. Children and young people up to the age of 19 make up a large user group. 95 percent of them exchange information on a daily basis via WhatsApp, among other things. Every second young person also uses sharing platforms such as Instagram or Snapchat several times a week to distribute pictures or videos. But “social media” is also an issue with older people. Today, more than a third of those over 65 use at least one of the many networks.
Not only because of the purchase of WhatsApp, Facebook ranks among the top 10 most valuable brands in the world. The network is used by around 1.2 billion people worldwide every day.
The commercial side of social networks
As a rule, registration and participation in a social network are free of charge. The internet platforms are mostly financed through advertising and sponsoring. Since the network operators have insight into the profiles of the members and thus know about their interests, friendships and activities, they have information that is commercially very valuable, for example for advertising. However, this user data is not only of interest to companies that want to use such data to better tailor their products to their target group. The network members themselves should also be interested in what happens to their data, who finds out what about them and who gets how much insight into their own privacy.
Data protection issues
The line between the private and the public is narrow: On the one hand, social networks live from members publishing as much information as possible about themselves. On the other hand, the collection, storage and transfer of personal data is regulated, among other things, by the Federal Data Protection Act – and this law states that this is initially prohibited in principle. However, since you must expressly consent to the use of personal data when registering in order to become a member, this prohibition is circumvented. At the same time, this opens the door into a legal gray area, because the data protection classification and evaluation of social networks lags behind the developments on the Internet. In addition, social networks such as Facebook work across national borders,
In general, the following applies: The social networks may not store any data or pass it on to third parties without the explicit consent of the user or, for example, being requested to do so by an official order. Which principle the respective social network follows can be found in the general terms and conditions (GTC). Photos, videos or texts that users share in their profile remain the property of the respective user and may not be used for any other purpose. Companies are also obliged to delete user data after membership is canceled.
Even if users often don’t worry about dangers and blindly trust network operators, data protection is in their hands. It is therefore advisable to limit the provision of personal data to the bare minimum and to make the profile visible only to familiar or known persons.