Facebook perils give thought for pause

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I do have a Facebook account – it’s just that you can’t search for me. Overwhelmed by requests from acquaintances I did not consider friends I(n) R(eal) L(ife), I removed myself from search results*. However, if you are a friend of a friend, I would pop up in that friend’s list – except, I have no friends. Well, on Facebook anyway.

The final straw came when Facebook, through some technical glitch, disabled my account settings. But no help came; despite hundreds of millions of users, the Facebook Help Centre merely presents you with a list of F(requently) A(sked) Q(uestions).

Frustrated but unable to delete my account since such access was denied me, I deleted all my friends instead, letting them know the old-fashioned way that I was back to one-on-one communication via e-mail.

But what was it that brought me to it? The frustration, though genuine, is not the story. Facebook enables certain dynamics between people to arise and I wanted to shut myself off from these.

I am neither voyeuristic nor narcissistic enough to thrive in an FB world. Furthermore, I was increasingly concerned about the group dynamics set up by the many-to-many relationship it enables, by default, particularly when you comment on a friend’s post and then someone else comments on your comment and things can become complicated out there, particularly since all ill-considered comment can reverberate at lightning speed throughout a series of interconnected networks.

Facebook makes evident Jane Austen’s wry observation that we find ourselves “surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies”. And it is not only that we are spied upon, we eagerly volunteer ourselves to be the spies, or as Facebook marketing speak renders it, “spectators” into others’ lives.

While most of us worked out long ago not to invite “everyone” to see everything, the setting “friends of friends” seems innocuous enough. My inner spy notes that the young and friendly enable it, but even the voyeur in me recoiled from what I saw.

Young unknowns in far-away countries with flushed faces engaged in drinking games – or worse – in a shrill Sheening** of society. “Discretion, people, discretion!” the old granny in me would implore, while questioning me as to why I looked.

We know that people have not been hired on the basis of their Facebook pages, so it is obvious that when spectators observe, the results are not always benign.

Even among “friends” only, disquieting things occur. A wordsmith ranted about his boss on his wall, despite his trade being littered with stories regarding the perils of placing in writing something that could get you fired.

Anyone who chooses to be on Facebook simply must know you cannot post anything you would not be happy to be viewed by or forwarded onto the entire world – after all, sharing “content” or “engaging”, is encouraged.

Public domain does not equate to private dominion and it is only when nothing is said that nothing will be known.

As to the narcissist in me – I found her persona becoming increasingly split from me and after a while, I wasn’t even sure I liked her any more.

An ex-boyfriend always greeted me on the phone with the dreaded words “Tell me something interesting” and, crushed by the weight of that expectation, I finally had to dismiss him from my utterly boring life. “What’s on your mind?” FB prompts to post, and the depressing answer was, unfortunately and increasingly, not very much indeed.

However, I also noted that something you’d not voice out loud, face-to-face, you can crow, delightedly, to a sea of voices baying for further blood.

Facebook’s analysis of their data notes, with surprise, that positive comments elicit far fewer comments than negative ones, but if you think of the behaviour of groups, it is only the fights that truly draw the crowds.

Group-think in such situations becomes the norm, any sign of dissent is quickly dampened and intolerance is celebrated.

I’ve noted that altercations break out between perfect strangers who’ve proceeded, on a page that was not theirs, to attack each other’s stances with vicious verbosity.

Since I am fortunate enough to have friends who are not like me, or even like each other, maybe it was also because I was exposed to posts expressing diametrically opposed positions that made me so wary of this particular social realm.

I could never work out if I was more irritated by those who commented or posted who had nothing to say but said it all the time, or with those who lurked, silent in the wings.

Your relationship, or lack thereof, with the lurkers increasingly makes you react like a Freudian patient, obliged to project your neuroticism on to a blank screen of non-responsiveness and the more they lurk, the more you wonder: why did you become my “friend” in this here realm then?

The reciprocity of social engagement, of give-and-take, is subverted when one takes and the other gives.

I miss humour the most, its subversiveness, its slyness, but if you are fortunate enough to have friends hailing from a variety of cultures, faiths, languages and countries, word-play in particular can easily be taken in a manner in which it is not intended and then where is the fun in that?

By the time my particular persona exited, stage left, from the FakeBook stage, her final manifestation, stripped of all social and political comment, was that of an earth mother delivering up anecdotes of her kids, hoping to be benign and funny.

Even then a passive-aggressive slap emanated from one who posted how she “was not one who continually harps on about my little darlings’ sayings and doings”.

The posts of great worth and interest were hard to find amid the dross of endless applications.

There are those who will argue that social networking is a force for good, and those who see it as a force for ill. I make no case regarding its inherent nature, it is what it is; we who chose to interact within its domain, do what we have always done – socialise, politicise, bully, encourage, love, hate, fight, and relate to each other in a myriad complex ways.

At the end of the day, it is the unconsidered exposure of an unthought-through comment to the glare of public opinion that concerns me most and I noted, sadly, how friends grew silent under fire. I have reverted to the one-on-one, give-and-take, of old-fashioned e-mail and I’ve laughed more, shared more and felt more connected ever since.

* Privacy settings you should know: http://www.allfacebook.com/facebook-privacy-2009-02 - Saturday Star


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S.A.HALSTEAD, wrote

IOL Comments
01:45pm on 26 April 2011
IOL Comments

Pros and cons for everything but it's the 'passive-aggressives' on facebook i hate the most.

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