As a college Speech Class assignment, I was recently asked to give two persuasive speeches, one arguing for a subject and one arguing against it. After much thought, I chose to talk about Facebook since I could argue both sides with fair conviction. Additionally, I decided to stuff my research and hypotheses into an article for my blog so you could all enjoy it as well.
Since Yale student Mark Zuckerberg's creation of what he called "thefacebook" back in 2004, Facebook has mushroomed into the largest social networking site on the internet boasting over 750 million users to date. For many people, it's opened a whole new realm to socialization. Now they can socialize when they want, where they want, and with whomever they want. In our world of rush civilization, Facebook and other online social networking sites have enabled people to keep in contact on the fly. No longer do families gather around the dinner table to share what is happening in each others' lives. No longer are long phone conversations the normal method of long-distance communication. No longer are people sending personal letters to each other (BTW, did you hear that back in July 3,700 post offices were slated to close due to lack of activity in small towns?). Now all we have to do is flip open our cell phone and Presto!, we're connected with the world. It's awesome!! Now we don't have to endure those long hours of endless research in our lonely rooms ever again. We can post about it and get condolences and attaboys for our awesome effort! No longer do we need to sit and twiddle our thumbs at stop lights, we can tell the world about our boring plight and then receive comfort at the next stop light when we read the comment from a "dear friend" whom we met briefly two years ago on an airline flight over to Korea. No longer do we have to be excited about our awesome school GPA alone, or even sharing solely with our family; we can now tell the world what a bright student we are! With the dawn of Facebook and other social networking sites, we have been plugged into each others' lives in a way that no other generation has been able to.
For me, the only reason I'm on Facebook now is to be able to have another outlet in order to publish stuff online. In other words, the more contacts you have, the better chance your articles have at being read, your pictures have at being looked at, and your videos have at being watched. In fact, I'll wager that most of the people reading this article will have learned about it from Facebook! (Hey, just got an impromptu survey idea! Leave a comment below stating where you saw the link to this article.)
But with all Facebook's social benefits, is it really something that is essential or good for our social well-being? This is a tricky question for me to answer, seeing as I'm on Facebook myself. However, the simple answer is this: Facebook in itself is not bad, but how you use it can be. To better answer that question though, I'm going to take it from three different aspects: security issues, social issues, and personal issues.
What if I told you of a prison where there were 3,500 inmates for every one guard on duty. And what if I also told you that some of the inmates knew how to break the security barriers and harm the other prisoners while the guards were mostly powerless to stop them? That gives you a rough idea of how Facebook is. Why did I use the prison analogy to describe Facebook's lack of active security? One person aptly stated, "Facebook is like jail. You sit around and waste time, write on walls, and get poked by people you don't know." Hmmm...
So back to our real "prison" topic, Facebook, there are several ways that hackers can break through the security barriers. A favorite is through password hacking. They can use computer programs that systematically go through letter/number sequences which will easily catch passwords like "iloveyou" (a password ranking among the top 5 most commonly used) or "abc123". Consequently it is recommended you make your password at least longer than 8 digits and having a mix of letters and numbers, like "Sw33tH2o". According to George Shaffer, a password expert, it would take two years for a computer program to hack such a password.
But sometimes hackers will be able to guess your password if you use common things like names of pets or things you like. That is why third-party apps are such a favorite for them. For those of you on Facebook, have you ever seen games like Farmville and Knighthood? Or all those little "So-and-so answered a question about you!" games? Or all those annoying little quizzes that don't make any sense anyway? All of those are third-party apps, meaning they aren't created by Facebook. Some of them are trustworthy, like Farmville (relax cyber-farmers, I'm not trying to scare you) and all the other games created by Zynga like Mafia Wars and Frontierville and the quintillion others they've created. However, when you play games, answer questions about others, take quizzes, or enable social games (like Hanging With Friends, a word game which I am playing as I type this), you have to go through a security check that asks you if you want to grant the application full access to your Facebook profile. They don't need FULL access, but they get it anyway (except for your email address and phone number, which are kept private). All of a sudden you are allowing the application free run of your friends, DOB, comments, pictures, statuses and videos. Although I could care less when doing that with credible companies (after all, I let Facebook have all my info), the problem comes in when shady apps ask me to let them see all my information. To create a third-party app on Facebook you don't have to go through a background check and credibility checklist. It could be a living-with-his-parents thirty year-old running an old PC in a basement who created a "Which NEMO character are you?" quiz and suddenly he has access to all your personal information. Dora was a funny character - she wasn't that bright either. Maybe all those who take the quiz would get Dora as the answer? Dunno…
But if security concerns were the only problem with Facebook and online social networking in general, we could stay fairly secure in being smart and keeping our accounts out of trouble. Unfortunately, the problems go further. If you were to ask me what the biggest problem with Facebook is, I'd say it's TMI, or in a colloquial manner of speaking, too much information. Don't get me wrong. I do think it's great that my neighbor took a shower (except for the part where their shampoo bottle was empty), or that my friend got a funny TacoBell sauce quote, or that another friend's dog was doing the funniest dance any four legged animal had ever done in the history of that self-same four legged animal within the close proximity of that four legged animal. And I feel sorry for my friend whose little toe was stubbed by the stack of tile lying on the floor in Wal-Mart's public bathroom right next to the hand dryers because they were doing construction, or that the soup got burned (because they were on Facebook too long), or that they were shorted 5 cents at the thrift shop - for the second time. I care, I honestly do! But seriously, do I HAVE to know all that? It seems like I got along just fine before, without it. After all, I stub my toe and burn the soup and get shorted as well! For many people they feel Facebook is a private sharing forum between them and their friends. They post anything and everything they can think of, often stuff they'd never even share with you in real life! This can create awkward moments for some. For instance, if you get to know a really nice person with whom you'd like to stay connected and therefore become friends on Facebook, a mere acquaintance can be immediately rocketed into the middle of your personal social life without proper introduction! Or with relationships such as employer/employee ones where the boss can now see what his employees are up to after they quit work or how much fun they're having on the "working" vacation which they took. The next day in the office you'll hear, "Can you have a seat sir? Now, according to Facebook…" Always go with the credible sources ya know.
Haha, you thought I was joking didn't you! Kimberley Swann wouldn't think so! She posted a status about her job being boring and on February 23, 2009, her boss gave her a notice that she was going to be fired because of it. Should have put a hand to her fingers before she typed that status!...
Another social problem with Facebook is from cyber-bullies. I've never had much experience with this, but there are tons of recorded cases in which victims of cyber-bullies have, in the worst end results, committed suicide. And this is not native to Facebook - it can happen via email or other networking sites, even like YouTube, or SMS. Most kids involved go from being bullied to bullying and then back again. Simply speaking, cyber-bullying is when a minor/s verbally attacks another minor, degrading their social worth and personal self esteem. They do it for multiple reasons including BF/GF problems, social ranking, jealousy and dares, to name a few. But being cyber-bullied isn't the only way people lose their self esteem due to Facebook. Many people live on the internet, gathering their entire social standing from their internet friends and peers. Simple comments negating their amazing profundity at declaring rush hour to be anything but a rush, can really spoil their otherwise good day (besides for the 40 minutes they spent in rush hour…). For many they find relationships to be too difficult to keep up in real life, and so default to the easy, non-condemning world-wide web - or so they think. Until someone tells them where to get off - by clicking "Logout".
So I've mentioned the deaths caused by cyber-bullies and other social problems, but I haven't talked about the common misperception that there are killers on Facebook just waiting for you to join so they can track you and, well, kill you! Having never faced this kind of situation I wasn't real worried about it, but I did do some research into the subject. All I found were a few reports of husbands killing wives because they changed their relationship status from "married" to "single". Which in my humble opinion doesn't demerit Facebook anymore than never getting a cell phone because some lady told a girlfriend on the phone about her marriage problems and her husband strangled her. Be Internet smart. Most people are smart enough to not engage in conversation with a stranger, especially one asking to meet you somewhere in real life. And just in case you were wondering, I don't want any of you to become a statistic in the obituary page because you talked with "President Obama" on Facebook.
And lastly, I'd like to bring up, real quick, the personal issues Facebookers face (no pun intended). Namely, wasting their time. I mentioned earlier about the TMI people post? Well, I don't want to knock you off your seats or anything, but amazingly enough people ENJOY reading that stuff!! OK, now this is where it gets really fascinating. People not only enjoy it, they're addicted to it! Studies have been performed which prove the fact that dopamine (anybody heard of that happy chemical?) is released each time Facebook is used. Every time a user sees a tidbit of information, this chemical is released, giving them a momentary satisfaction similar to the way drugs work. Then they want to see more and more to keep the reaction going. Ever wonder why getting a personal letter in the mail was so exciting? (notice the past verb form - hint hint, I still like receiving personal letters!!!) It's because dopamine was released in large quantities as the inanimate pages began to come alive with social information from what the sender's weather was like on down to when they're going to send another letter. Now, researchers are probing deeper into the evolving problem of FAD, or Facebook Addiction Disorder. Some treat it as a joke, some are worried because it's another form of addiction that people are totally unprepared to deal with. There are thousands, nay, millions (look it up to prove it to yourself!) who have admitted to a constant dependence on the site in order to survive. They feel tense and irritable if they aren't able to check their Facebook account every few minutes. Why? It's the rush they get from viewing all that (mostly useless) information. Facebook has done an awesome job of cramming a ton of information all into one page (your home page) with multiple outlets for viewing more! It's OK to be social, but when it starts taking up your entire life, making you spend hours at a time with your computer just to get one more dopamine rush, something's wrong. And believe me, it's TOUGH to break such an addiction!
Recently as I've been contemplating the issue of social networking, I've realized several important things. First of all, I think something is lost when we start networking with so many people on a social website. Don't get me wrong, I love people and I enjoy sharing my life with them - that's how God created us to be. But somehow, in the process of trying to share our lives with everyone, we inevitably lose the joys that come from one-on-one friendships. Greed is in our nature and always leads to sorrow in the end. It's been proven over and over again. God created food, He meant us to enjoy it and be a blessing to us, but instead our greedy society has twisted that desire into the ravenous lust which has created alarming obesity statistics. There are other things. But food, sex and money are the biggies our society has grown to rely on as a source in and of itself. God also created us to be social creatures, He meant us to enjoy it and it be a blessing to us. But instead, our greedy natures try to find ways that we can spend more time socializing and less time contemplating on the more important things in life. How many times, when you are "bored" and looking for a diversion, have you gone to Facebook instead of God's book? How many countless hours of blessings have you missed by finding out what your friend was up to rather than what promises God has written especially for you? How many times has someone, a family member or close friend, suffered for want of your Spiritual advice and guidance because you were busy telling your friend in Washington to drive safely because you heard on the news report that they were having large snow storms? How many times has God been trying to tell you something, but instead of listening and yielding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit you tried to brush off the nagging feeling by reading why your neighbor couldn't sleep last night due to his cat purring annoyingly in his ear.
For those of you who think you just might be suffering from FAD, whether slight or severe, I would strongly suggest that you try taking a break from it, for only a week, and by the end of the week see how you're feeling. I did that twice. The first time I thought I'd die without it and couldn't wait for the week to be up so I could talk to all my "friends" again. The second time, by the end of it I realized I really didn't need Facebook after all and was doing quite well - better in fact - without it! It's just a fun experiment to see how attached you are to Facebook, and guaranteed you might be surprised with the results!
But Facebook isn't the only social problem out there. There's Myspace, Friendster, Yahoo Connect, Google+, Google Buzz, Google Friend Connect, multiple email servers, and a host of others. Do they have a place in our social lives? Personally, I'd say yes. Just as much as writing letters had a place in the social lives of the apostles. Which, since I brought up the subject, brings out a very good point. Have you ever studied Romans, or Phillipians, or Corinthians as a social letter rather than simply good sermon material? Guaranteed those letters were similar to the blogs pastors run today, but still they were a way for the apostles to keep in contact with their churches back during the apostolic period of the church. Interestingly enough they start with a greeting, end with a few personal comments, and then spend the rest of the letter encouraging and uplifting their readers. How do your emails/social posts compare? Shouldn't our motto be the Bible? When you think about your emails or social networking, are they full of uplifting and encouraging spiritual advice, or are they full of complaints about the "rats" in your "dungeon" in the boring city of "Philippi"? Something to think about anyway - I know I for one have failed in this!
So by now you're probably wondering what the point is of this whole long article anyway. (I want to personally thank you for sticking with it, by the way, in case you're still reading this) Basically, it's not to scare you into getting off Facebook, or tantalize you into getting on it. I just wanted to share research I've done and thoughts I've, uh, done, so that you can make a more informed decision as to where you stand in your relationship with Facebook. Yes you heard me right, I didn't say your relationship with the people on Facebook, I said your relationship with Facebook. And if you have any questions as to what I talked about here, feel free to post on my Facebook wall! Not that I guarantee a quick response, but it's worth a try anyway...