Online social network sites such as Facebook have revolutionized the way people interact with each other. However, these sites pose problems to society, and raise questions around family interactions, social skills and privacy.
Good Luck with School, Son – I Have to Milk This Cow
Kyle wants to talk to his Mom about his homework. But Mom Sandy has a lot on her plate right now. Today she has to milk the cows, feed the chickens, plow under 5 acres to get ready for soybeans, pull some vegetables out of the garden for dinner, trade some animals with neighbors and fix 2 tractors. She really doesn’t have time to help Kyle today.
Down on the Farm
But Sandy doesn’t live on a farm. In fact, Sandy and her son Kyle have lived in Queens all their lives. Sandy is one of over 60 million users of Farmville, the most popular application on Facebook, and the most popular social networking site in the world.
Farmville players manage a virtual farm—planting, plowing, harvesting, growing and raising livestock just as you would on a real farm. You start with an empty farm and build up crops and livestock that you can sell for “farm coins.” Using your farm cash, you can purchase more livestock and grow even bigger. Zynga, the developer of Farmville, says that people will regularly stay on Farmville for up to 12 hours a day.
Farmville is just one example of how Facebook is causing problems in our social groups and family interactions today.
According to Facebook, they have over 500 million active users who have an average of 130 friends each. People are spending over 700 billion minutes per month on the Facebook site.
Like a Drug
Do you have FAD? Facebook Addiction Disorder? No, that’s not a real medical term. But it could be. Many people are reporting spending excessive time on Facebook to the detriment of real friends and family. You might suffer from this malady if:
- You check Facebook when you wake-up, when you go to sleep, and 48 times on your iPhone in-between.
- You have no idea who 9 out of 10 of the people are on your friends list.
- You post more status updates in one day than you sent out in holiday cards last year.
- At your job you spend more time on Facebook than doing your actual work.
- Tipsy Facebooking – after a few glasses of wine, you start surfing Facebook for old flames.
Facebook and other social media sites let you connect to many more people than you could in “real life.” Some users find they are spending more time with their on-line friends than they are with people in real life.
Social networking sites even affect how well we operate in real social situations. This is evidenced in the difference in how millenials interact compared with their mothers and fathers. Studies show young people are very comfortable sharing big parts of their personal lives on-line–it is all they know–some kids don’t know a world without the Internet. In contrast, older people are less prone to share themselves on-line, preferring to hold back personal information.
On the other hand, older people are better with real life face-to-face situations. They know how to introduce themselves to strangers at a networking event, for example. It is how they learned to socialize. Millenials test much more poorly in interpersonal skills in comparison.
Social networking has somehow made a whole generation less skilled in social interaction.
More serious problems have surfaced with the rise of Facebook-like cyber-bullying.
- In Manassas, Virginia, a 16 year old female student of Stonewall Jackson High School was accused by police of creating a Facebook page called ‘Stonewall hoes’ which featured pictures of nine students with captions your mom would not approve of.
- In Florida, two schoolgirls were arrested for cyber-bullying when they created a fake Facebook page on a fellow student that included obscene photos and notes.
- In Suffolk County, NY, several incredibly hateful and vicious comments were posted on Facebook about a popular student; before, and after, she committed suicide.
Some studies have estimated that about 32% of teens on the web have faced harassment in some form. At the same time, Facebook has taken major steps to open up the data of users on the site. Many user details are exposed to even non-users unless you select the proper security settings to prevent it. And many people either don’t know how or don’t check. In many cases, anyone on the web can see your hometown, school, friends, daily schedule, “likes” and more.
In response to these conflicts, at the Whitehouse Conference for Bullying Prevention, Facebook announced a new group of tools to help protect users from bullying. There are two main components: an improved safety center and more social tools for reporting bullying or offensive content.
Please Rob Me
One of the security settings people forget to check on Facebook has to do with location. In an effort to compete with fast growing services like Foursquare, Facebook created Facebook Places. Like Foursquare, Facebook Places lets you use your smartphone to “check in” when you are in a pub, hotel or any location. Doing so earns you special badges, discounts and more. When it first rolled out the service, Facebook made users willing participants by default–that meant anyone could tell where you were at almost any time without you knowing.
The site PleaseRobMe summarized the problem,
The danger is publicly telling people where you are. This is because it leaves one place you’re definitely not… home. So here we are; on one end we’re leaving lights on when we’re going on a holiday, and on the other we’re telling everybody on the internet we’re not home.
Even if your security settings are up to date and tight, some people unknowingly are still leaving themselves at risk. In March 2010 in New Albany, Indiana, Keri McCullen and Kurt Pendleton updated their status on Facebook by indicating they would not be home in order to attend a nearby concert at 8pm. At 8.42pm, thieves entered their home and made off with $10,000 worth of electronics and other goods.
Too Much Information
The “Facebook Overshare” is a common malady affecting our social interactions. In real life, people seem much more guarded. Online affords a distance or isolation that seems to encourage “too much information.” At FacebookOvershare, here are some of the tamer overshares:
- “The worst part about a scalp sunburn? The peeling.”
- “Hi. Thanks for including me as a friend. I appreciate it. – Dad”
- “Going to be late for work- my kid was expelled this morning.”
Ensuing Lack of Privacy
One of the major problems with social media is lack of privacy – and Facebook is no exception. Facebook is about “connecting” with others – people don’t join so that they can keep to themselves. People join social media to share their problems, experiences, events, pictures with “friends”.
The problem is: Facebook groups extend the concept of “Friends”. A small Facebook group of friends can rapidly grow into a large group that possibly comprises of members who are not your friends and who are not friends of the creator of the group. As a result, people share a lot of information about their lives with “friends” who are in fact strangers or vague acquaintances.
…But there is some good
Facebook has allowed thousands of people to keep up with friends and family all over the world with status updates and photo albums. The online social network site has broad appeal – it does not exclude particular social groups. If you have a business, you can use Facebook groups as part of your marketing strategy to grow your business.
In spite of the positive attributes, Facebook has also adversely affected us: over sharing, cyber-bullying, FAD, and lack of social skills are just some of the maladies that can be traced back to the social networking giant. The challenge ahead is how to make the good better and eliminate the bad completely.