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PUBLISHED: 5:11 PM on Wednesday, December 6, 2006
Students embrace online social networking sites
Danielle Ferguson loves MySpace. Ferguson, a college freshman, said she checks her social networking Web page multiple times each day.

With more than 325 online friends, the site occupies hours out of her week.

"I'm on it all the time. It's addicting," she said.

The popularity of online social networking sites has boomed dramatically in the past few years - especially among 14-to-24-year-olds.

"It's just what's popular," said Ferguson. "You get on there 'cause you're curious, and then you realize there are millions of people on there and you search for all your friends."

Web sites like MySpace.com and Facebook.com - both of which boast millions of user accounts - allow virtually anyone to create and customize their own Web page, and link up with other users.

"Social networking sites give students a way to connect with one other," said Jill Gibson, a college instructor of speech and mass communication.

"It is a natural gathering place for young people across the nation. It's almost like a virtual mall - it's a hangout," she said.

Candice Hull, a second-year college student, said she is enamored with MySpace. "I check the site almost any time I think about it," she said. "I'm an Internet freak."

Users can post messages to other friends, view photos, add songs or video clips to their page and write blog entries. "You can personalize everything," Hull said. "There's just tons and tons of things to do on there. It's so entertaining."

Jeremy Pauli, university instructor of computer information systems, said these Web pages serve two basic purposes.

"First, these sites allow self-expression," Pauli said. "It allows people to build their own Web page and add almost anything to them.

"The other thing is the networking aspect," he said. "These sites knock down all the social barriers. It gives people a new angle to meet other people."

Trey Hicks, a college freshman, said he uses MySpace to keep track of friends. "It's just the thing to do in the way of communication these days," he said. "Now, everyone talks to each other on MySpace. It's just the place to go."

Dangers do exist for account holders who post information carelessly, said Gibson.

"Unfortunately, some people don't consider the implications that anything you put out there is there for the public to view," she said.

But most social networking sites contain built-in privacy settings to protect users, Gibson said.

"Overall, these sites are a positive thing for youth," said Pauli.

Emily Peterson, a college freshman, has both a MySpace and a Facebook account. She, too, admitted her infatuation with the sites.

"You write something on someone's profile, then you have to go check yours five minutes later to see if they've written anything back," she said.

And the phenomenon isn't likely to fade soon.

"These students are digital natives," said Gibson. "These sites are all fueled by the younger generation. They grew up with this technology - it makes sense to them and this is how they communicate."


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