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Facing the Facts about Facebook

Stories surrounding Facebook have become frequent news items and have generated great interest along with controversy.  Some stories focus on the drawbacks while others center on the unimaginable opportunities.  By and large, the opportunities offered by Facebook far outweigh the dangers. The ubiquitous online social networking site does present danger, however, not so much because of any intrinsic attributes, but rather simply due to human nature itself.

People use Facebook for a variety of purposes, anything from professional contacts, keeping in touch with family and friends, to finding lost loves and acquaintances.  A friend of mine, recently divorced, used the site to locate his high school sweetheart whom he is to wed next week.  Many parents with Internet-addicted children have found my cyber addiction support groups through Facebook.  When my father died, I didn’t want to talk to anybody for several weeks, but was able to let friends and family into my world by posting on Facebook every day.  The site facilitates connection and networking, and helps build community.

Facebook can also facilitate and abet dysfunction. Herein lies the problem.  At forty-four years of age, my friend Ken still struggles to make and keep friends.  He has a variety of annoying and self-centered habits rooted mostly in growing up with an alcoholic and rage-prone father.  On Facebook and MySpace, however, he became a suave, cutting-edge and easy-going individual.  He got so sucked in to portraying this false persona that he started spending five to six hours every night working and re-working his online profiles.  At one point, my socially awkward friend had over 1500 Facebook friends!  So much of his time was spent in the cyber world, however, that his interpersonal skills stagnated further.  “All I wanted,” Ken told me, “was a few more friends and maybe a girlfriend.  But I just ended up throwing away two whole years of my life.”  The silver lining was that Ken eventually went to therapy to begin seriously dealing with his issues.  He grew weary of what he saw as wasting his life.

A British boy’s life was recently wasted, literally. One sixteen-year-old young man fatally stabbed a former friend over a “loss of face” after they traded insults on Facebook.  He received a sentence of  “at least 14 years.”  For a lot of individuals, Facebook brings out their worst traits.  It provides a forum that makes it easy to sink into insult, injury and altercation.  The mascot of the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team could not resist the urge to bash the team through the ease of his Facebook account.  He was promptly fired.  Employers routinely casino spiele “crawl the web” to screen the private lives of prospective hires for any inappropriate behavior.  Banks are using similar tactics to screen people for loans.

Adoptive parents and their children are also finding themselves bombarded with infringements on their privacy.  With disturbingly increasing frequency, birth parents who willingly gave up children for adoption have used Facebook to reconnect with their children, who in many cases had not even reached adolescence!  Eileen Fursland, a British social worker, has written a book on this potentially damaging trend. Facing up to Facebook: A Survival Guide for Adoptive Families.  The lines between our personal and professional lives are becoming increasingly blurred and the ability to maintain privacy increasingly at risk.

We have in Facebook a powerful engine for connectivity, community, and cooperation.  But we have to take great care to make sure that it makes our lives better and does not take the place of real time human interaction.  As with most of the offerings of the cyber world, Facebook carries the potential for addiction.  Parents need to model responsible use to their children as well as monitor them to make sure they are not engaging in the social networking site in ways that will ruin their futures or imperil their very lives.

17 Responses to “Facing the Facts about Facebook”

  1. Karson says:

    Keep it coming, wrresit, this is good stuff.

  2. Janson says:

    Hey Mr. Roberts,

    Very interesting article! Everyone seems to be on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter 24/7 now. Do you think that social networking sites like Facebook have led to more adolescents and teenagers not being socially up-to-par and socially awkward? Does it hinder their ability to socialize normally in person because they spend the majority of their time talking online? It seems that many people spend time talking on social networking sites rather than face-to-face.

    Another topic to consider is the use of cell-phones. Checking social networking sites and texting on cell-phones have become somewhat of an obsession for many individuals. When I’m out, I notice people texting at restaurants with their head down looking at their phone instead of socializing with the company right in front of them! What is your opinion on the increased usage of cell-phones in places like restaurants, in the classroom, etc.?

    • Kevin says:

      Janson, I think people with social issues are particularly at risk with social networking. It allows them to comfortably convince themselves that they do have friends, thus allowing for avoidance of a problem, not a confrontation of it.

      Cellphones are an issue too. Now, you do not need a computer! Everything is in a hand-held device and we are creating tech cyborgs. I appreciate your comments and hope you come back soon!

  3. Laura says:

    Kevin,
    I definetly agree with you that the opportunities offered by Facebook far outweight the dangers. I actually met one of my classmates from Romania who lives in Detroit on Facebook. I hadn’t seen him in 14 years, and I believe this re-connection would not have been possible without Facebook. The internet, in general, has become an amazing tool to keep in touch with people around the world. My brother and I were able to watch the Lost series finale together, even though he lives 7000 miles away, thanks to illegal streaming websites and skype.
    On the other hand, Facebook and gaming in general can cause numerous problems, especially if you have an addictive personality. Truthfully, I cannot speak from experience as I get bored with any games quite quickly, but my brother (Daniel) is an entirely different story. I remember in high school, where Daniel had a hard time fitting in, he would play this game called Tibia for endless amounts of time. At the time, my family thought that this addiction was a cause of the social problems he was having at school, so they did not put a lot of emphasis on it. A couple months ago, I accepted his request to an application on Facebook for a game called Social City and I was shocked to see that his “virtual city” was absolutly amazing and it must have taken him an extreme amount of time to put it together. At the moment, my brother has a healthy amount of friends, a girlfriend and I find that he is relatively happy, yet he still spends an insane amount of time on the computer playing games. Sorry to go off on a tangent, but the point of the story is that gaming can be very addictive, and even if the circumstances change a gaming addiction is just like any other addiction and it will follow you for the rest of your life.

    • kevin says:

      Thank your for what you call a “tangent,” Laura. I see benefits and drawbacks, just like you do. I have rekindled numerous friendships through Facebook, for which I am extremely grateful. But, like your brother, the cyber world has robbed me, through my own complicity of course, of thousands of hours of my time. I counsel vigilance, awareness and responsibility, but above all, honesty with ourselves. Thanks for your remarks.

  4. sam says:

    Great examples of pros and cons to facebook. Good Work!

  5. Wally says:

    I have to disagree with you on the assertion that Facebook brings out peoples worse traits and enables insults — at least relative to the rest of the internet. As someone who does online political communications, I can tell you that the comment threads on Facebook are the most civilized things in the world compared with those on almost any other web forum. Check out the vitriol and hatred in the comment section of any local newspapers’s website or blog. Facebook doesn’t even hold a candle to it. It is an oasis of civility in comparison. The difference? Facebook ties comments to profiles. If you say something hateful people know who you are AND your friends see the kind of venom you’re spewing. The result is a much less toxic atmosphere than anywhere else on the internet.

    As to teens berating each other over facebook. Well, that doubtless happens. But facebook isn’t causal here. Young kids are mean. If anything, Facebook just makes public to parents and school administrators hateful interactions between kids that would have otherwise gone unnoticed on the playground.

    • kevin says:

      Perhaps I was unclear, but I meant only to assert that it CAN bring out people’s worst traits. I also acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of the communication that transpires via Facebook is of a civilized and constructive nature. Thank you so much for enlivening the discussion. I suspect we are in agreement, but have chosen in our respective posts to highlight different aspects of the situation. Please post again!

  6. Andrew says:

    This is quite an interesting article and I actually have a story that relates to the employer “Web Crawling”
    I have a friend who was fired after “tweeting” (Yes I use the word despite what “The New York Times” says) quite vulgar things about her place of employment after an extremely frustrating day of work.

    I have also heard of two occasions where an teenager committed suicide due to cyber bullying on Facebook and Myspace. One of those occasions the bullying was from an angry parent posing as a young man to get back at the teenage girl for the way the girl treated her own daughter. So using these social networks responsibly goes past parents on some occasions, on the contrary to what most people think, parents aren’t always the perfect role models portrayed by TV sitcoms. In this particular case especially. So I do believe Facebook use needs to be monitored but I don’t believe parents are always the best choice to do so.

    • kevin says:

      Andrew, the cyber world opens us up to heretofore unimaginable scrutiny and puts us at risk for manipulation. My message is, at the very least, to educate people on the potential dangers, and to push for responsible and conscious use.

      • Andrew says:

        Then I completely agree with your message
        Most people do not realize the consequences their cyber actions have in the real world
        If someone were to sift through my Facebook the chances of them finding something incriminating against me are slim.
        Anyway I thought I’d share a story or two
        Keep up the good work see you around

        • kevin says:

          I very much appreciate your remarks, Andrew. Many poor souls get so wrapped up in the cyber world that their potential stagnates. I find that people who become cyber addicts, whether through the Internet, Video games or Facebook, are often highly intelligent and creative people who struggle to find outlets for their talents in the real world. It is a great tragedy for our society. Many of the most creative people in our country are wasting their lives this very minute in front of a computer screen.

  7. Robyn says:

    Regarding the case of the boy in Britian; having worked in youth outreach in that country, I can state from personal experience that the violent youth issue goes far beyond Facebook. My educated guess is that the Facebook insult was the trigger, not the cause.
    Employers have no business sneaking their way in to employees personal lives (unless on a company computer). That being said, please use common sense out there. It your status is “Mr. Smith is an ***”, don’t put that you work for Mr. Smith & Co. on your employment details. Simple.
    A lot of addiction behavior starts during the formative teen years. Parents, please don’t park your kids in front of the computer like your parents parked you in front of the TV.

    • kevin says:

      Robyn, I wholeheartedly agree. The offerings of the cyber world just facilitate a forum for pre-existing dysfunction in most cases.

  8. Stephanie says:

    I agree entirely, kevin!

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