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IB DP Computer Science Study Notes

C.4.1 Online Interaction and Social Networking

The Internet has undergone a dramatic transformation with the introduction of Web 2.0, heralding a new era of digital communication and social networking that has redefined human interaction on a global scale.

Web 2.0: A New Paradigm

  • Definition and Features:
    • Web 2.0 refers to the second generation of the World Wide Web, emphasizing user-generated content, usability, and interoperability.
    • Encourages interaction and collaboration on the Internet, transforming it from a collection of websites to a full-fledged platform for social networking.
  • Impact on Online Interaction:
    • Users can contribute content and easily interact with one another, leading to the creation of online communities.
    • The rise of blogging, video sharing, and wikis under this new paradigm has democratized information creation and distribution.

Social Networking: The Heartbeat of Web 2.0

  • Evolution of Social Networks:
    • From early platforms like Friendster and MySpace to the current dominance of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
    • These platforms have become embedded in daily life, influencing news distribution, marketing strategies, and even political campaigns.
  • Mechanics of Social Networking:
    • Profiles: Represent individual users, showcasing personal information, activities, and interests.
    • Connections: Users can 'friend', follow, or connect with others, creating a network of contacts.
    • Interactions: Likes, comments, shares, and messages facilitate engagement and content distribution.

Transformative Social Dynamics

  • Shifts in Communication:
    • The immediacy and multimedia nature of modern communication have altered how we interact.
    • Emojis, GIFs, and memes have become a language of their own, influencing expression and understanding.
  • Community and Identity:
    • Online platforms have enabled the formation of niche communities that transcend physical boundaries.
    • The Internet has become a space for exploring and expressing multiple facets of personal identity.
  • Influence on Behaviour:
    • Digital interactions have introduced new behaviours, such as 'doomscrolling' and 'phubbing'.
    • The constant connectivity has implications for attention spans and social expectations.

Ethical Implications of Online Interaction

  • Digital Citizenship:
    • With the global reach of social networks, users must navigate a complex web of cultural norms and legal considerations.
    • Ethical use of the Internet, respecting both individual and collective rights, has become a core skill.
  • Online Disinhibition Effect:
    • The perceived anonymity and distance provided by the web can lead to uninhibited behaviour, sometimes negative.
    • Cyberbullying and trolling are unfortunate byproducts of this effect, raising concerns about the psychological impact of social networking.

Privacy and Data Security

  • Privacy Concerns:
    • Social networks collect vast amounts of personal data, often without explicit consent or awareness from users.
    • The use and potential misuse of this data for advertising, manipulation, or surveillance is a growing concern.
  • Data Protection:
    • The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has set a precedent for privacy protection.
    • Users are increasingly demanding control over their data, prompting platforms to offer more robust privacy settings.

The Digital Divide and its Consequences

  • Unequal Access:
    • Despite the proliferation of the Internet, significant disparities in access remain across different socioeconomic and geographic groups.
    • The digital divide perpetuates existing inequalities, limiting opportunities for those on the wrong side of the divide.
  • Implications for Education and Work:
    • The gap in digital literacy and access has profound implications for education and employability.
    • As more resources and opportunities move online, those without adequate access are at a disadvantage.
  • Decentralization of the Web:
    • There is a growing movement towards a more decentralized web, advocating for power to be distributed away from corporate monopolies.
    • Technologies like blockchain and peer-to-peer networks are at the forefront of this shift, aiming for a more equitable online space.
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning:
    • AI is increasingly shaping online interactions, from personalizing feeds to detecting fraudulent activity.
    • The ethical implications of AI-driven decision-making, particularly regarding privacy and bias, are areas of active debate.
  • Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality:
    • The integration of VR and AR into social platforms is anticipated to further transform online interaction, offering immersive experiences.
    • These technologies raise new questions about authenticity and the distinction between digital and physical realities.


As the web continues to evolve, so too does the nature of online interaction and social networking. This evolution brings with it a host of social, ethical, and behavioural changes, as well as concerns regarding privacy, data security, and the digital divide. The implications of these changes are profound, touching on every aspect of modern life from personal identity to global politics. It is crucial for users, particularly the youth, to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to navigate this complex landscape responsibly and effectively.


Social networking has drastically changed the news landscape by enabling rapid, real-time dissemination of information. Users are now not only consumers but also distributors of news, often sharing breaking news before traditional media outlets. This has led to a more participatory form of news consumption, where users can comment on and discuss news stories within their networks. However, this shift has also raised issues regarding the accuracy of information, as the emphasis on speed can sometimes bypass the rigorous fact-checking process that traditional journalism upholds. Additionally, algorithms can create filter bubbles, influencing what news a user sees based on their online behaviour.

The rapid growth of social networking sites brings several ethical concerns to the forefront. These include issues around data mining and the potential exploitation of personal information, the psychological effects of social media addiction and the impact on mental health, and the spreading of misinformation. There is also the problem of cyberbullying, which can occur easily and anonymously online. Moreover, there are concerns about how these platforms may contribute to echo chambers and the polarisation of society. These ethical issues demand a critical approach to how social networking sites are used and regulated.

Social networking has revolutionized the concept of community building by allowing people to connect and form communities regardless of physical proximity. Online communities can form around shared interests, professions, or causes and can provide a sense of belonging and identity. These platforms facilitate the sharing of ideas and information, collective problem-solving, and support networks that were not possible before the digital age. However, while they can offer support and connection, they can also create insular groups that may reinforce certain beliefs or behaviours without the balance of divergent viewpoints that typically exist in physical communities.

Social networking sites have become key arenas for shaping public opinion and political discourse. They provide platforms for political figures and organizations to communicate directly with the public, bypassing traditional media filters. Social networks also facilitate the rapid spread of political content, mobilization for events, and the organization of grassroots campaigns. However, this influence can have negative aspects, such as the spread of misinformation, the use of bots to manipulate discussions, and the amplification of extreme views. The influence of social networking on politics is profound, raising questions about the integrity of democratic processes and the need for regulation to maintain fair and open discourse.

Social networking platforms collect user data through various means such as registration information, user-generated content, and through the use of the platform (like pages visited, likes, and shares). This data is often used to tailor the user experience, targeting advertisements and content. The implications for privacy are significant; there is the potential for misuse of data, unauthorized sharing, and data breaches. Users may not be aware of how their information is being used or the extent to which they have consented to this use. This raises concerns about user autonomy and the protection of personal information in the digital age.

Practice Questions

Describe two ways in which social networking platforms have altered the behavioural patterns of their users.

Social networking platforms have significantly shifted user behavioural patterns, primarily in communication and attention span. Users have adapted to communicate in concise and often informal ways, leveraging a variety of multimedia formats such as images, videos, and memes. This shift promotes a more visual and instant form of interaction. Furthermore, the design of these platforms, with their endless feeds and notifications, has contributed to shorter attention spans. Users are more prone to switching between tasks rapidly, seeking immediate gratification, and finding difficulty in sustaining focus on singular activities for extended periods.

Evaluate the impact of Web 2.0 on the digital divide.

Web 2.0 has had a paradoxical impact on the digital divide. On one hand, it has democratized content creation and enhanced information accessibility, allowing a broader spectrum of users to contribute and access knowledge. On the other hand, it has exacerbated the divide by creating environments where only those with specific digital skills and access to the latest technologies can fully participate. Thus, while Web 2.0 has the potential to narrow the digital divide by providing new opportunities for engagement, it also risks widening it by adding layers of complexity that marginalize those without the necessary skills or access.

Alfie avatar
Written by: Alfie
Cambridge University - BA Maths

A Cambridge alumnus, Alfie is a qualified teacher, and specialises creating educational materials for Computer Science for high school students.

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