South Africans haven't really felt the potential negative effects of the social networking revolution, but these sites – which include FaceBook, Google and MySpace – could start causing serious problems for users – especially when it comes to identity theft.
This is the warning from Karen Geldenhuys, MD of Pretoria-based IT recruitment company, Abacus Recruitment, who adds: "There is a growing school of thought that 2008 could be the year of the social networking backlash. Already a few prominent people in South Africa, such as DJ Alex Jay, have seen their identities stolen and used – often for nefarious purposes.
"In some cases personal damage – in terms of reputation – can be done. But the problem we are facing is not just personal identity theft – it is also the risk of employees divulging invaluable information about their employers on sites such as Facebook."
Geldenhuys warns that, while users may see these sites simply as a way of interacting with their peers and building up a social network or recontacting old friends, there is is a very insidious and dangerous side to this new social activity.
"Sites, including Facebook it seems, are determined to share every aspect of your life with everyone you know – whether you want them to or not. Even those users who are aware of this still seem mesmerised – and still continue to divulge information about themselves and their employers that they arguably should not."
However, should a backlash occur, this scenario will change, she says.
"Social networking software might soon be compared to malware, spam and viruses – that is how intrusive, and dangerous, it can be. The increasing level of privacy invasion by social networking software – not to mention the widely publicised risk of identity theft – are causing experts to question whether 2008 could be the year the social networking boom comes to an end."
Facebook recently came under fire for invasive advertising and, in December, Google started sharing user content with all their instant messaging contacts.
Geldenhuys adds that users should also be aware of is that potential employers often search the Internet's social networking sites to "check up on prospective candidates".
"If an employer finds compromising information on a prospective employee – such as a drunken party picture on a blog – it is very likely that any job offer will be retracted. This is the reality of social networking sites."