Social network (internet)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A social network is an online service that offers the opportunity to exchange information and build relationships. The resulting online community communicates and interacts according to the possibilities of the respective platform in the virtual space . On the technical basis of a social medium ( social media ), which is used as a platform for the mutual exchange of opinions, experiences and information, there is a definable social network of users with the content they have created.


The following functions are usually offered to users:

  • A personal profile with various settings for visibility for members of the network community or the general public of the network. A profile can e.g. B. contain an avatar picture and personal data about age, gender, place of residence and interests and hobbies. Another profile element is the definition of status messages, which should provide information about a person's position or attitude.
  • A contact list or address book including functions with which the connections to the members of the network community listed here, such as friends, acquaintances, colleagues, etc., can be managed.
  • The reception and the sending of messages to other members with the support of emoticons or emojis or stickers ( chat )
  • The possibility to comment and rate content and categorize it with hashtags
  • The receipt and sending of notifications about various events such as profile changes, newly uploaded pictures, new reviews, etc.
  • Creating blogs or micro-blogging functions or publishing individual status updates
  • Functions for playing, publishing and recording streaming media content
  • Games serve the communication and cooperation of the platform users. The primary goal is to establish social contacts and integrate into the game's internal communities. ( see also: Social Network Game )
  • Share photos, videos and web content with other users or members
  • Creation of groups within the network in order to bundle the same interests.
  • Search functions
  • the management of a personal feed with contributions from friends and subscribed pages and groups
  • Create and use your own pages and apps
  • the marking of friends and places in pictures and posts ("nametagging")
  • Creating stories in which users can report on their everyday life in short, time-limited clips.

The technical-functional implementation is also referred to in English with the term social network service (SNS). German terms such as “community portal” or “online contact network”, on the other hand, are rarely used.


Number of users


The US company Facebook also had problems gaining a foothold in the German market. It was later able to overcome these problems and has been Germany's largest social network since 2009.

In December 2011, a total of 798.9 million members registered at least once with their own Facebook account. This corresponds to a growth of 214.6 million (+ 36.7%) compared to December 2010, Asia had the highest number of members at the end of 2011 with 214.7 million people, followed by Europe (193 million), North America (174.5 Million), South and Central America (148.5 million) as well as Africa (55.2 million) and Oceania (13.0 million).


In December 2010 Instagram had one million registered users, in June 2011 it was five million, in July 2011 10 million and in April 2012 over 30 million. The growth continued to develop strongly and so on September 11, 2012 Mark Zuckerberg announced that Instagram now has over 100 million registered users. According to its own information, Instagram reached 100 million monthly active users in February 2013. By September 2013, this number rose to 150 million. By April 2015 the number of members grew to over 300 million, by June 2016 to over 500 million. In June 2018 it was announced that the number rose to 1 billion active users.

Use by companies

Users can also be companies. They present themselves there with a company profile . You will be advised and supported by your own service providers (e.g. PR or advertising agencies ) or you will carry out these activities yourself (e.g. as part of corporate communication ).

Among other things, companies use social networks to position themselves as a brand towards (potential) employees ( employer branding ). At the same time, they are often used for public relations or sales purposes ( social commerce ) and are therefore increasingly part of marketing strategies . Opportunities to draw attention to company profiles in social networks are the placement of advertisements or the integration of the respective URL in classic advertising media , at the POS (e.g. via QR codes ) or in company publications . Community management is often used for dialog with other users . If negative comments and statements on the part of users increase on a company profile, this is also referred to as a shit storm .



The foundation stone for social networks was laid with the bulletin board systems (BBS) as early as the 1980s . These systems allowed the exchange of data and messages between several users on one platform. The Usenet , a platform for discussions and exchanging messages over the Internet , was also created during this time .

When the Compuserve , Prodigy and AOL applications appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s , the basic functions that make up a social network today were in place: In contrast to bulletin board systems, personal profiles could be created, events made public, chatted and public and private messages are sent. These applications were usually only available to customers of the networks mentioned.

In the publicly accessible World Wide Web , social networks have existed since the mid-1990s , the functions of which go beyond those of pure Internet forums and chats . One of the first examples is the American school friends community,, founded in 1995 . According to a study by Danah Boyd and Nicole Ellison , the online community , founded in 1997, was the first social network to combine the functions of searchable friend lists, profiles and a message system on one website.


Social networks experienced a huge leap in popularity a few years after the turn of the millennium, when ever larger parts of the population had an Internet connection available and a large part of private communication shifted to the web. In 2003 LinkedIn was founded, in July 2003 Myspace , in January 2004 Orkut followed . The business network XING (then OpenBC ) built on this. Facebook was launched in February 2004 , initially only for Harvard University students. Gradually, the network was opened to students from other US universities, high school students and eventually to any user outside the United States. At the beginning of the 2010s, social networks were once again very popular, as smartphones, tablets and other devices, which are primarily used for mobile Internet use, gained acceptance from this point on. In addition, mobile communication today works less through phone calls or text messages than through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

In July 2005, Myspace was bought by News Corporation for $ 580 million . On August 9, 2006, Myspace reported 100 million users, which meant that social networks were known to a broad class for the first time.

In November 2005 the student directory studiVZ was founded in Germany . At the beginning of 2007 studiVZ was taken over by the Georg von Holtzbrinck publishing group , and the parties agreed not to disclose the purchase price. However, the Axel Springer Verlag failed shortly before with a bid of 120 million euros. Due to the great success in the German-speaking countries and the increasing number of non-students, almost identical projects were started with schülerVZ and meinVZ with a different target group and platforms for Spain, Italy, France and Poland were launched, which have since been unsuccessful but were hired again.

In October 2007, Google announced the Open Social Initiative. This made it possible to bring together content from different social networks using a uniform method. Microsoft bought a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook on October 25, 2007 for $ 240 million. That transaction made Facebook $ 15 billion on paper. Previously, a similar offer from Google was rejected and the amount of one billion US dollars that Yahoo wanted to pay to take over Facebook was not accepted.

In March 2008, AOL, the Internet subsidiary of the American media group Time Warner , bought the social network Bebo , founded in 2005, for $ 850 million (approx. 545 million euros). At the time of the takeover, Bebo reportedly had around 40 million users and is particularly popular in the UK .

In August 2008, Facebook reported 100 million users.


In February 2010, Facebook reported 400 million users, on July 21, 2010 half a billion users. In October 2012, Facebook reported one billion users for the first time.

In November 2010, the first alpha version of Diaspora , a decentralized social network, was released. Another decentralized social network that has also been developed since 2010 is Friendica (formerly Friendika). Friendica was received more widely from 2012.

On June 28, 2011, the Google+ network of Google Inc. started as a direct competitor to Facebook.

In spring 2012, Microsoft started a social network called , which, however, was only designed as a technology study and required registration with Facebook. Windows Live can also be used for login since mid-2012 .

At the end of 2014, the first end-to-end encrypted social network was launched with whispeer . Since no real names, telephone numbers or e-mail addresses are required for registration, it is possible to remain anonymous. Whispeer's client is open source .

At the end of 2015, the social network went online, a platform to promote local neighborhood help and networking with over one million members in Germany.

In April 2019, Google+ was shut down after the Facebook network was never able to compete.

Social networks as an application platform

Some social networks also act as a platform for new program functions. Software developers can add their own program applications to the portal pages, i. H. their user interfaces are embedded in the portal. The programming interfaces and development environments required for this are provided by the developers.

Examples are:

  • Facebook Social Graph , a programming interface for Facebook
  • OpenSocial , an API that spans multiple social networks
  • Google+ API , programming interface to Google's social layer for calling up public information and integrating it into applications, apps and websites

The federation through B2B APIs should be mentioned across platforms .

Investigation of social networks

Among other things, business administration , law , ethnology , social psychology , communication science , computer physics and game theory research social networks. Multiplexity and network density play a role here. The methods developed there can also be used for webometric analysis of the Internet . From a legal point of view, the data protection problem is examined above all.

It turns out that the structure of social networks often forms small world networks in which the maximum distance between individual units is surprisingly small (“six degrees of separation”).

Business model by company

Social networks are financed through membership fees as well as various forms of advertising and sponsorship , and in the case of business networks also through offers for personnel service providers . Since the willingness of users to pay is usually low, most operators rely on income from online advertising . On the other hand, networks that completely dispense with advertising, sponsorship and use of customer data have hardly been able to establish themselves so far.

Since the service operators have access to the social graph of the hosted network community, i.e. know which member is connected to which other members, they have a commercially interesting information base, e.g. for target group-oriented advertising.


Criticism of the use of data and deficiencies in data protection

Criticism of the services is primarily aimed at:

  • The publication of private information on the Internet that can lead to personal disadvantages, be it due to your own carelessness or security gaps in the service or user. In extreme cases, the data can be used for so-called cyber bullying or identity theft .
  • Use of the social graph and other personal data by the service operator for commercial purposes.

These problems existed before the introduction of social networks, for example Microsoft and IBM evaluated newsgroups and mailing lists from a social point of view as early as 2003 . You could also always get yourself disadvantages by careless publication on the Internet. However, never before has personal information from users been queried and published in such a detailed and categorized manner as is usual with the extensive user profiles of today's social networks. The automated analysis of this data has been simplified enormously and the problems mentioned above have been exacerbated.


  • 1,074,574 StudiVZ profiles (1,035,890 of them public) were systematically evaluated by third parties on December 9, 2006.
  • Journalists and media services get pictures and information on social networks.
  • In the USA , the information available on social networks is regularly used in police investigations.

Criticism of security

If you look at social networks in their role as application platforms, the focus here has so far been on the development of functionality. In the meantime, people are also beginning to deal with the security aspects of the applications there.

Criticism about risks

Another point of criticism concerns the psychological risks to which the users of social networks are exposed. The often one-sided, positive self-portrayal of users and their experiences on sites like Facebook and Instagram leads to constant exposure to users who seem to be better off than themselves. Upward comparisons with physically more attractive and more successful people mean that users have both their own Rate well-being as well as their own body worse. This effect can be observed in all people, but significantly more pronounced in women.

Furthermore, there has recently been increasing discussion about the effects the use of social networks has on the psyche of users. Research indicates that its use can lead to a short-term increase in self-confidence and a decrease in self-control in some users. Results from long-term studies, however, are not yet available.

Criticism for abstraction

The social network Second Life , founded in the USA in 2003 , has come under increasing criticism in Germany because it is a paid software that shows real, but virtual life on the screen, similar to computer games. Criticism is expressed that socially lonely people increasingly spend time in the virtual, second life, which can lead to social isolation and the loss of real, social contacts and causes an increasing escape from reality . In addition, it is possible and necessary there to make payments to purchase virtual goods and services, which can lead to financial deficits, especially in the case of addictions to Second Life.

User criticism

In recent years, the number of those users who are leaving social network sites has increased. A 2013 study by the University of Vienna examined which points of criticism are in the foreground for these users using Facebook as an example. The most common reason given was privacy concerns (48%), followed by general disapproval of the social network site (14%), negative experiences with friends on the social network site (13%), and feeling addicted to them to become a social network page (6%).

Criticism because of political influence

In addition to the classic media, social networks are proving to be effective instruments for propaganda or disinformation , as they are part of campaigns in the information space that accompany variants of hybrid warfare . In the presidential election in the United States in 2016 and in the referendum in Great Britain on leaving the European Union in the same year (“ Brexit ”), the surprising winners each involved Cambridge Analytica , which is responsible for the survey, evaluation, application and Assigning and selling personal data obtained mainly on the Internet and using methods of psychometrics, an offshoot of psychology ( see psychography ).

Data protection assessment

The collection, storage and transfer of personal data always requires a legal basis (see Section 4 BDSG , for example Section 28 BDSG) or consent in accordance with Section 4a BDSG.

A consent under § 4a BDSG can be effectively issued under privacy laws only if it is based on the free decision of an informed user. The main problem with social networks, however, is that the users have formally consented and usually do not worry about the dangers and blindly trust the networks.

The following applies to permissible data processing in accordance with Section 28 BDSG: The data protection assessment and classification is only just beginning. Since the social networks and internet communities can best be compared with associations and are often spoken of by members, Bergmann / Möhrle / Herb classify the legal relationship between a person concerned and the respective responsible body as a contract-like relationship of trust within the meaning of Section 28 (1) sentence 1 no 1 BDSG. According to the phase model of data processing, it would have to be examined already during the collection and storage whether the data about the person concerned serve the contractual relationship of trust. Here, a strict standard is to be applied to the question of necessity. Due to the purpose limitation, a transmission is regularly problematic, because a network, which z. B. is used for leisure purposes, may not be misused for professional purposes (search queries from employers for applications). In general, use by search engines will also have to be viewed as not being included in the purpose of the contract.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled in February 2012 that the operators of social networks cannot be obliged to search the data of their users through filters for copyright infringements .

See also



Web links

Individual evidence

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