Readers of articles on social networking will find that the advice tends to be polarised. Either we are told that social networking is fabulous, marvellous, and essential to improving our daily lives. Or we read that social networks are full of weirdos, ne’er do-wells and other social misfits.

Take today, for instance. The Consumers’ Association published a report saying that small businesses, particularly the self-employed, ought to take advantage of online social networks. Yet, on the same day Computer Weekly tells us that our data is threatened by being on networks like Facebook. So who are we to believe?

Well, everyone is the answer. The people who say social networking is a “must do” are right – yet so are the people who tell us it can be a waste of our time.

For a moment, forget that online social networking has been invented. Imagine that only the “offline” world existed. You would be told, for instance, that playing golf is “essential” if you run a business and want to get the best deals. But another friend would tell you don’t go to golf clubs, lots of people get things stolen from cars in the car park. Similarly, you might be told it’s “vital” that join the Chamber of Commerce so that you can do more business. But another friend could tell you that such meetings aren’t worthwhile because people steal each other’s ideas.

For every good reason for meeting people, there will be another reason not to do it. The same is true online. For every good reason to take part in online social networks there will be an alternative viewpoint suggesting they are bad for you.

However, thefts in golf club car parks and the rip-off of ideas in business networking clubs have not stopped them from succeeding for many people. Equally, the naysayers for online social networking sites will be outweighed by the benefits such Internet sites provide. So, the Consumers’ Association is right – get involved in social networking. But right too is Computer Weekly – take some care.

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