Monday, September 5, 2011

Is Facebook "dangerous"?

According to The Drum today, the Queen's eldest granddaughter, Zara Phillips, has declared, “I think Facebook’s dangerous. So many people I know get into trouble with Facebook...I’d rather just pick up the phone. Or Skype.”

Beyond the somewhat elusive claim "so many people I know get into trouble" there are not many clues here. I want to know what kind of trouble, exactly?!

So, from a bit of Google searching today (thanks, Google, for the Freddie Mercury 65th birthday Doodle!)
  • Like email, it's all too easy for others to interpret my Facebook status updates in a way I didn't intend: there's no "tone of voice" (hence the proliferation of emoticon smiley faces ;)
  • It can all get a bit false as we self-consciously promote what we want others to think of us, editing out the photos and updates that don't support our desired image.
  • The "Like" button has become an immediate gauge of my popularity: "Why have I only got 2 likes for that...?" is the insecure response of many a kid nervously isolated online.
  • Who exactly are the people on that large "friends" list? Many names just slip my memory, or are friends of friends and random, one-off or temporary, acquaintances.
  • It's all a bit of a treadmill because there is such a constant barrage of updates that it's hard to keep up, yet we can feel socially isolated if we've not got the latest news. Someone I know Tweeted today that after two weeks' holiday in France he'd got out of the whole social media scene. I wonder, was his life richer or poorer because of it? (I rather hope the holiday was better than the treadmill!)
  • It certainly soaks up a huge amount of time; an average hour a day according to some claims. For many, it's the first thing they do (from their phone, in bed, on waking) and the last thing they do at night!
  • The constantly-shifting privacy rules mean that I can enjoy "stalking" others and peering into their life; while conveniently forgetting that random others are seeing me back.
  • Of course, we've been alarmed by tales of cyber-bullying - even leading to suicides; and there are cases every now and then of those who have lost a job or a promotion because of their online presentation. These things don't only happen on Facebook, but they are the down-side of the world's largest social media platform.
  • And then we've got to face the fact that there's huge monetary value in all that Facebook data. If there weren't then Mr Zuckerberg and his company wouldn't have such stratospheric valuations. But we also have to acknowledge that they are the ones making money off our data, paying us with a "free" service that increasingly feels like an expensive deal.
I wonder what sort of impact an un-endorsement from a Royal will have? Expect some reactions: there are already some claims that Facebook usage is reaching saturation point, possibly even tailing off in some key markets, especially in USA and UK, the early-adopter nations.
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