Sitting in my economics lecture hall, I couldn’t help but be irritated by the flashing Facebook pages in front of me. Let’s face it, Facebook is what gets us through our lectures. It’s the first page we open each morning and the last one we exit. But hearing about a friend’s death through someone’s Facebook status about a week ago shattered all my illusions of the purpose of using it. In this age, communication in the form of social networks has increased, engulfing most people and beckoning the rest into a world of gossip, drama and pretension. But while many look at this blessed monstrosity as a way of keeping in touch, I see the idea of privacy fly out the window.
Facebook is definitely the premier source of news for many of us. Status messages like “Earthquake in Haiti,” “Manchester United fails yet again,” etc. make me Google this information and help keep me updated with what’s happening in the world. But a status publicly announcing grief over the death of a friend is an insensitive move that is surprisingly accepted as commonplace among Facebook users. This is one case where I wish I had received the phone call before the declaration on Facebook.
There are more common instances of tactlessness and drama on Facebook. For about a month, I watched two friends exchange wall posts filled with romantic declarations and things that made me blush. The couple even met through Facebook. It’s not that Facebook doesn’t provide us with enough options to have private, personal conversations. Everyone just chooses to talk about intimate affairs in public instead.
It is also replacing text as the more insensitive way to send invitations, apologize and even to break up. I could not think of a better way to end a relationship with a jerk that cheated on me than to simply declare my relationship status as single and unfriend him. But that isn’t a mature way to end a real relationship.
Facebook has become a channel for users to broadcast their social networks without being judged as boastful. Whoever said popularity was only important in high school was absolutely wrong. Facebook has reinforced the occurrence of high school cliques — but on a global level. Even parents have begun to engage in the “who is more popular” game. It’s all about the number of friends, the number of pictures, the wall posts, etc. We have essentially built an alternate personality in this subtlety-deprived network.
And let’s consider profile stalking — a creepy but fun way of passing time. It is easy for anyone to follow a person’s life through their Facebook profile. Just consider the claims of Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls Gaza, which believes that personal information on Facebook is making it easier for Israelis to recruit the perfect spies for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Through a look into the personal life and issues of users plastered all over Facebook, one can see why it wouldn’t be hard to build reliable profiles of people and lure them into working as spies.
But there’s the direct threat of Facebook stalking as well. About a month ago, 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall added a stranger without knowing his true identity. After posing as a 17-year-old boy, he turned out to be her 33-year-old sex offender and murderer. It is mistakes like these that cost dearly. It is a matter of not accepting friend requests from unknown people, regardless of whom they say they are. But however much we stress this issue, social networking sites still provide us with a weapon that we can easily turn on ourselves if not used responsibly.
Facebook is definitely one of the innovations that has defined the 21st century so far. But all it requires is a little bit of responsible use, so that we don’t lose ourselves in this fabricated, virtual world. Let’s keep with Facebook’s purpose of reinforcing our social life, not defining it. As for me, sure, I feel a little bit of resentment and disgust towards Facebook right now, but I know I will soon get over it and continue to build my cyber image.
Aida Ali is an LSA freshman.