Time magazine recently named Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg 2010’s “Person of the Year.” According to the Time article, “Facebook has merged with the social fabric of American life, and not just American but human life: nearly half of all Americans have a Facebook account, but 70% of Facebook users live outside the U.S. It’s a permanent fact of our global social reality.” But is Facebook’s growing importance in our daily lives and personal interactions actually a good thing or not? Is Facebook bringing its users closer together, or causing more harm than good by creating a false sense of intimacy with those we barely know – and sometimes, creating rifts between us over the pettiest of matters?
Co-mingling personal networks that would be better kept apart.
One problem with Facebook is that users tend to friend “everyone they know” – from co-workers to family to former high school classmates to internet-only associates. And there are times when these different social groups of ours collide in unfortunate ways on Facebook, and would be better kept separated. We’ve surely all heard the stories today of Facebook users loosing jobs over being tagged in compromising, embarrassing photos, or making critical comments about their boss when they forgot he or she was reading. Relationship strife can occur if a spouse is caught communicating on Facebook with an ex, or perhaps friending too many attractive members of the opposite sex. Parents and teenage children have fought over the teens not wanting their mom or dad reading their Facebook, and the parents being concerned about their child’s online activities. Comment “wars” can occur when a person’s conservative family members collide in a debate with their more liberal friends or classmates.
This issue was also why many LiveJournal users raised a loud protest earlier this year when the service announced integration with Twitter and Facebook, allowing LiveJournal users to crosspost their comments onto Facebook, even when the original entry was privacy locked. LiveJournal is heavily used by members of fandom and other social/hobby groups who like to keep their “fannish” identities and activities separate from “real lives.” Some people realize and like to use these different social network services to interact with different groups of personal connections, and realize the danger that can exist in allowing them to overlap too easily. Yet Facebook seems determined to rule and merge with all other social network services that it can, and not enough people seem to realize this is not necessarily a good idea for personal privacy.
Facebook can be like a dinner party gone horribly wrong.
There is a very old rule of etiquette that certain topics should never be discussed at the dinner table or other social events: religion, politics and money. Ironically, such discussions are almost a part of daily life on Facebook, leading to many “flame wars,” hurt feelings, and ruined friendships. The anonymity of the internet, even amongst longtime friends, seems to allow and encourage users to spout off on their opinions with a bluntness they rarely would face-to-face. People post links to or comment on hot-topic issues such as abortion, left-wing vs. right-wing politics, social activism and religious beliefs, and then act surprised or offended if others disagree vehemently with their stance. People pass along “memes” to “put this as your status if you support gay marriage/U.S. troops overseas/traditional values/etc” which can lead to awkward situations for friends who don’t agree with that statement – or don’t like feeling pressured to participate in a chain meme. Barriers can also go up among friends over minor matters that the original poster might not understand can be hurtful – such as spamming their wall with baby pictures or memes about how blessed they are by their children, when some of their friends might be struggling with infertility and find such constant reminders painful.
Facebook discussions and wall posts such as these can end friendships or harm family relations. Whereas such discussions might never come up in other situations – for instance, among friends who know each other through a shared love of a musical act, or other hobby but have no reason to discuss their stances on social justice – they become a daily part of navigating the Facebook news feed. Remove someone from your Facebook friends list because you find their political/social views too much to your distaste, and that can cause more hurt feelings and internet “wank” if the other party makes a stink over being removed or wants to question your decision.
A more negative than positive experience.
Lately I’ve been feeling increasingly less inclined to log in to my Facebook account and participate in my social network there, except to post “drive-by” links to my articles and occasional videos and articles I find of interest – more for my own bookmarking purposes than to share with others. I’ve noticed I almost have to “brace myself” for what I might find on Facebook each time I log in, and the experience of reading my news feed there can leave me feeling stressed, angry and aggravated instead of happy to catch up with my friends. I’ve engaged in debates I wish I’d left alone, but felt too hurt by comments posted by others to simply sit by idly (even when that would have been the better option in retrospect.) In fact I’d probably give up Facebook entirely except that it’s the only social network some of my friends and associates use, and I don’t want to lose complete touch with them. But it’s a bad place to be in to realize that I’d probably like to cut my friends list down to about 1/3 of what it currently is, yet I’m afraid of the kerfluffling and trouble that might result if I did so. I’d actually be doing it to maintain casual relationships with some, yet they would likely take it as an insult instead of a preemptive, cautios move because I fear our differing opinions on certain subjects may some day lead to a huge battle.
Facebook: The Anti-Social Network.
Many have given up on Facebook because they find the service’s stance on personal privacy questionable at best. I’m considering giving up on Facebook because I feel it may be harmful, and not helpful, in providing genuine personal interaction. We have become a global society obsessed with the immediacy of internet communication, and seemingly lost much of the skill for tact, rational debate, and compassion that we used to have. Is this something worth celebrating by awarding Facebook’s founder the title of “Person of the Year”? I, personally, have my doubts about that.
* Lev Grossman. “Person of the Year 2010.”Time, December 15, 2010.
* C.A. Young. “Win but Fail: LiveJournal.” AssociatedContent by Yahoo!, September 1, 2010.