The power of social media

It could happen to anyone and that’s the thing that horrifies Atlantan Danica Kombol.

An invite to 10 friends turns into 20, which turns into 30, which in just a matter of minutes turns into 60.

“Social media is the like the power of tens,” said Kombol, owner of a social media marketing firm and mother of three. “It magnifies and amplifies very quickly and what most kids don’t realize is it can grow outside their own personal network and in ways that they don’t mean it to.”

What’s the harm in that?

None, Kombol and other social media experts say.

The problem is social networking sites encompass a wide array of human behavior, from good to bad.

“Someone in Moscow can see that a party is happening in Douglasville,” said Kombol. “That’s what horrifies me.”

While social media tools have been implicated in an ever increasing array of lawsuits and crimes -- the stomping death of Bobby Tillman in Douglasville on Saturday resonates locally -- none of them are solely to blame for those crimes, said David Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media at the University of Texas at Dallas. He said those tools simply offer a new forum for old behaviors.

It used to be a kid called up five friends and invited them to a party when the parents were out of town, Parry said, and five turned into 25.

“We wouldn’t then say the telephone is the blame for the party getting out of hand,” he said. “It certainly is the case that social media allows for things to be amplified far beyond traditional technologies but the focus should be on the violence one student committed upon another. That’s what we should be talking about, not Twitter.”

When she bought her son's cell phone, Lori Carbone said she deliberately got one that just makes phone calls -- no texts or photos -- because she didn't want the 14-year-old distracted by it or fall prey to improper influences.

"I don't think kids do things on purpose. I think they're just naive about the danger out there," said Carbone of Johns Creek. "It's an age where you just have to be really careful."

Kombol said that it's not unusual to hear of kids telling friends about or canceling parties on Facebook but it's her hunch that most parents are unaware that they might also promote parties using Twitter.

"While surveys show teens are not using Twitter in droves, if parents suspect their kids are tweeting, it would not be that hard to find their Twitter profiles via their e-mail address and monitor what they are saying," she said.

Kombol said she talks often with her children (ages 14, 18 and 20) about both the risks and benefits of social media.

“Just as we talk to them about drinking and driving and everything else, we have to talk to them about social media,” said Kombol. “Parents need to be aware of their teens’ digital footprint.”

If a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation is any indication, that footprint is a pretty big one.

With technology allowing 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the survey found the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth.

Today, 8-to-18 year-olds devote on average 7 hours and 38 minutes to using entertainment media in a typical day. And because so much of that time is spent using more than one medium at a time, they actually manage to pack in nearly 11 hours of media content into those 7 1/2 hours.

Cierra Denae Jackson, 18, figures she gets at least one invitation per week to a party or some other event via social media.

“In college, if you join an entertainment group on Facebook, they send you messages about parties that are coming up,” said Jackson, a Spelman College freshman from Columbus.

Jackson said the Facebook messages are no different from receiving a flyer about an event. And although she has never done it herself, it’s not unusual for people to forward invite messages to their friends.

It happened two years ago, she said, when she had a "Sweet 16″ party. Nearly 50 of the 200 people she invited asked if they could invite another friend.

“Most of the time if I knew them, I’d say yes,” said Jackson. “If I checked their Facebook page and saw something that I didn’t like, such as cursing, I wouldn’t allow it.”

Jackson said she doesn’t worry about party crashers because, she said, “You can always close the door.”