There’s no doubt about it: Facebook dominates the time spent online by most college-age individuals. Actually, it dominates the time spent online by a lot of people of any age, as any student with extroverted aunts and uncles can attest. And its benefits are clear: keeping in touch with friends, remembering birthdays, inviting people to parties, sending messages, and everything else.
However, what is not so clear are the negative effects Facebook is having on our lives, both from a privacy and social standpoint. There are two things to consider here: how Facebook’s programming and policies decide what happens with your information, and how cramming all of your social interactions into a virtual world is affecting how we deal with one another.
On the first point– I want you to perform an experiment right now. Log-on to Facebook, click on “Account” in the top right corner, then “account settings.” Scroll to the bottom and click “deactivate account” (Note: you will not actually be deactivating your account). A confirmation page will come up and display pictures of 5 people who will “miss you.” Note who the people are, and then click refresh. Then refresh again, and again. Eventually you will notice that only about 12-15 people show-up, of all your friends. Some are obvious– perhaps a parent, significant other, or close friend. But others are completely random, yet they continually show-up. So what does this mean; how does Facebook choose which ones to show? Nobody knows for sure– and that is exactly the point.
What this means is that Facebook is creating some sort of data set and profile about you and your friends that they intend to use for a purpose. Something that you have in common with those random friends is grouping you together. And Facebook isn’t just creating these data sets to keep you from deactivating. They’re going to use this information in lucrative ways, because that’s what businesses do. Marketers would love to know everything about you.
So on to the second reason why Facebook should be criticized, although this one has more to do with ourselves than the site. I believe this will be more digestible in list format, so here it is:
• It’s addicting. Check Facebook before going to bed and when you wake up? Feel the need to check Facebook in the middle of the workday or writing a paper? Embarrassed about or hiding the extent of your Facebook use from friends and family? Do you like the idea of being addicted to a website?
• It’s a waste of time. Ask yourself, what do you want to do with your extra time? What are your goals? What would you like to achieve? What organizations or people could benefit from your help? Is Facebook a tool to obtain this, or does it take away time that would otherwise be very useful to pursue your interests or dreams? Is Facebook turning you into a zombie?
• It’s the most socially destructive social tool yet. How many new friends have you made on Facebook that you did not first meet in the real world? How many more friends would you have made in the real world had you not been spending time on Facebook? Imagine that, it’s easier to have more “friends” in the real world than it is on Facebook. What’s your best Facebook memory? How many great times have you had on the website? Let’s look at the negative side: Have you ever masochistically stalked an ex on Facebook? Did cousin Jimmy appreciate your lame birthday wish? How many intriguing people did you not talk to in real life because you thought you’d just Facebook instead? In terms of being a social tool, Facebook is not very efficient.
• You were probably happier and less-stressed out before Facebook. Remember being a youth and going out and doing stuff instead of sitting in front of a computer for hours a day? We’ve filled our lives with enough digital muck already: TV, video games, movies, cell phones, etc. Right when we should be returning to real roots, we’re plunging into the worst thing yet: constantly connected social media.
Facebook started out as an innovative tool to keep up with old friends and figure out what’s going on the weekend. But now that it’s morphed into an all-encompassing, all-knowing distraction, perhaps it’s time to take a second look at whether the site is worth your patronage.