The two faces of Facebook

We are all being held to account by the social media.

Social media 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Social media 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
My apologies to all those who bought shares in Facebook. I think it is about to go out of style. I base this on a gut feeling that, as I was dragged into membership of this far-from-exclusive club a month ago, it can no longer be fashionable. In fact, I suspect that the change to the new Timeline system was all part of a plot so that the minute I joined Facebook, my profile would already be outdated.
I joined mainly for professional reasons, having been assured that this is part of the future and there was no way to carry on ignoring it.
My first night, however confirmed many of my worst fears.
At some point in the evening, my 10-year-old son, who has long pleaded for his own Facebook page, issued a plaintive howl from his seat at an empty table: “Help! My mother’s been abducted by Cyberspace aliens and I’m hungry!”
Had I been a slightly better Facebooker and an even worse mother, I probably would have immediately posted his comment on my page. As it was, I handed him the overcooked yet cold meal that I had prepared to give him hours before and went to see how many more “friends” I had acquired.
Fortunately, he is pretty laid-back about my poor cooking and was fairly impressed that I had managed to gain more than 100 friends within my first 12 hours. In fact, I continued to request friends and accept them at such an intoxicating speed that when I got a notice from an ominous anonymous Facebook administrator that they thought I was abusing the system and would close me down unless I really did know all these people, it wasn’t my computer that crashed but my confidence. Why would a piece of software somewhere out there doubt that I had so many friends or that I knew so many people? Why, for that matter, was it spying on me?
At least it forced me to take a break, have my own supper and assess what was happening to me. I didn’t like the Face(book) that stared back at me. How could it be that I had gone so long without having a Facebook page and yet within less than 24 hours of joining I wanted nothing more than to be high-profile and popular?
Hence my first lessons in social media were that, yes, it is addictive and, as a result, it is not so much time-consuming as time-wasting. I had fallen into the trap that I myself had warned of in previous articles: The temptation to live life as the star of a personal reality show instead of, well, to live life.
The Internet has its uses, but there is also a downside to it.
And let me just state for the record that this column is not a plea for more friends. At the moment, my naturally suspicious nature combined with my new-found understanding that the more “friends” you have, the greater the amount of time necessary to read their status updates means that I am, for now, only accepting people I know: family, real friends, colleagues and professional contacts (and perhaps one or two other people who snuck in somehow and I haven’t the heart to unfriend them – the very term sounds so mean).
Personally, I still prefer the real friends I can count on in an emergency and enjoy a coffee and chat with at other times.
Membership of Facebook has also shown me the other side of people I thought I knew.
Since joining, I have learned the innermost – although not necessarily profound – thoughts and dreams of some; the medical and childcare problems of others; what friends ate or were planning to eat (just as soon as they get off the computer, presumably) and where everyone and his mother/brother/favorite nephew has been.
I have been bombarded with so many lists of the 100 cities/countries/eateries to hit before I die that I am acutely aware that life is too short. Although death, apparently, is no obstacle in the Facebook world – among the suggestions of “People you might know,” the name of a former real live friend who is now sadly very dead regularly appears, and after the initial shock I realized that this is very much in keeping with the spirit of this amazing woman who died young but left a lasting impression on all who knew her.
THANK HEAVENS for Shabbat, one day a week in which my computer is turned off due to the demands of an even Higher Force and I have to face and find pleasure in the real world.
My colleague and active FB friend Jordana Horn recently wrote in Forward about the FB ban in a Chabad-affiliated girls’ school: “Facebook isn’t something that needs to be feared; rather, it’s a challenge that a school – and especially Chabad, a sect of the Lubavitcher movement well known for its outreach in real and virtual life, should consider a teachable moment.
“Facebook offers a chance for students to test what it really means, in a pseudo-real world, to be modest, to be kind and to follow the path of Torah. It’s potentially a great avenue to do mitzvot and to share Torah learning and experience. It’s an easy way to exchange a kind word and to discuss an issue with people whose experiences are divergent from your own. It is also a forum in which we can see the world as carefully tailored as we want it to be and, through privacy settings and filters, shut out those things that are inappropriate.”
And I know she’s right – but I have also seen the effect of the herd mentality, the peer pressure and the perversity.
Social networking brings out the inner child in all of us – prone to make silly comments in poorly phrased language and to say things we will later regret. (And hopefully this column won’t come back to haunt me.)
My son’s school, like most local schools, now regularly runs programs to teach the parents the hazards of Facebook. I came away from the evening I attended shocked by the dangers posed by impostors and just kids being kids without realizing the potentially devastating consequences. The story of 16- year-old Ofir Rahum, lured to his death by terrorists via Internet in 2001, is still painful, as is the tale of the youth from Ma’aleh Adumim who committed suicide last year under the influence of the comments left on his FB page. Cyber-bullying seems even worse than oldfashioned bullying in the schoolyard, because it invades your own private space and yet is excruciatingly public.
Like all other social media, Facebook has the potential to do great harm or to bring people together.
I have been asked to comment on and share stories and pictures which were in my opinion either deliberate fakes or poorly researched pieces or fallacies. (The story of the proposed Egyptian legislation that a man can have intercourse with his freshly dead wife doesn’t so much spring to mind as uncomfortably cling there, for example.)
Facebook has been credited with bringing about the Arab Spring revolution, but also for allowing people to stay at home and feel they are participating by simply clicking “Like.”
It can be a great resource of knowledge or a waste of resources; wising us up or dumbing us down. Like all social interactions, it depends on who you are and how you choose to behave.
For now, I am not leaping off my FB page and I hope that if I handle it with care, my new-found and old FB friends will respond in kind. As for those who are now pushing me to get Twitter, all I can say is don’t get me started... yet.
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