While we’d like results now, it’s probably far to early to draw any real conclusions about how social networks are changing society. They’ll improve some aspects and perhaps remove others, as is the way with new technology. The best we can do is try to ensure that nothing value is lost, while keeping as many positives as we can. It all comes down to how the tool is used, but the defaults that the tool has may drive us particular directions which we need to be conscious of. How would we use the telephone differently if the default was to broadcast to a whole road?
I still think that the process of using a public ’like’ feature for others to rate your output is likely to result in more conformist behaviour, which may lead people who don’t have those views to believe they’re less liked and so isolate them. Unlike previous changes in communication (universal post, telephones or e-mail) social networks encourage ‘open’ interaction, where your messages appear in a public space.
Only in a more private environment are people going to be comfortable expressing their own opinions. They may still be rebuked, but the risk is less and are more likely to be themselves; which builds the confidence to interact in the future.
To get any answers to that question we’re going to have to wait for those who have used Facebook from an early age to live their lives and try to spot any differnces. I’m not holding my breath for those results, which could easily take fifty years to come in.