Almost every few weeks, Facebook is in the news. Most recently, its creator was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. A movie based on Facebook’s formation is considered one of the best movies of 2010 and is in the forefront for an Academy Award. Although Facebook is a godsend to many, there are several reasons to be a bit wary…
Globally, Facebook is the most widely used online social network. It has over 600 million active users, who collectively spend hundreds of billions of minutes on the site every month. With this level of popularity, the potential hazards of Facebook to its members might not be fully appreciated. However, let us first acknowledge some of its benefits.
As a social networking site, Facebook is an excellent forum to connect with people and to establish social groups. It allows users to maintain a presence on the Internet, to meet persons with similar interests, and to interact with friends. Further, due to its considerable memberships, Facebook also provides businesses with an excellent platform to market their products and services, and for professionals to network.
For many of us in the Caribbean, we have lost touch with a lot of our childhood and school friends, primarily due to emigration. Thanks to Facebook’s popularity, we have been able to reconnect with old and long-lost friends and relatives who are also members of the site. Furthermore, with relatively little effort you can maintain a level of connectedness to those within your network without having to nurture each individual relationship.
Additionally, with help of programme developers, Facebook makes available to its users a wide range of applications. Hence there are a variety of ways to interact with others, and to share and develop common interests.
Lastly, Facebook has alleviated some of the isolation that many of us might feel in our daily lives. There is often a sense that you can log in at any time, express yourself, and you will be heard within your community of friends.
Similarly, the site has also had a number of security issues. Incidences worthy of note that occurred recently have been when Facebook published some of its programming code online, and when users’ email addresses were revealed. Additionally, with relatively simple computer programmes, a number of persons have been able to collect site data such as the web address for every searchable user profile, the user’s name and his/her unique Facebook identifier. In some instances the data was used for academic research and to substantiate concerns about Facebook’s relatively poor security. However, data miners and hackers could also use the information for unscrupulous purposes, since as recently as mid-2010 details from 100 million accounts were made publicly available.
Thirdly, applications on the Facebook platform can be invasive. They can sometimes require you, the user, to provide many details that you would not normally disclose. Further there have been allegations in the Wall Street Journal, as recently as late year, that some of the more popular Facebook applications had been transmitting details identifying users to advertisers and to other businesses that track what people do online. It was not known for how long the activity had been occurring, but it was also noted that users who had set all their information to private still had their information transmitted.
Facebook is increasingly being used as a forum to threaten, bully and to humiliate others. There are many incidences occurring worldwide, but one of the most widely reported cases was in the United States late last year. A university student allegedly committed suicide after his roommate broadcast his sexual activity on Facebook. In addition to the public outrage that the matter generated, it also highlighted how prevalent such unsavoury behaviour was online and on Facebook.
Finally, Facebook’s increasing popularity has made it and its users subject to a number of online threats, e.g., through malicious attacks, worms and dubious applications. In a few cases, the attacks used details of “a friend” to lure others to external sites and to download corrupt applications. Others have had their Facebook pages directly hacked, including Facebook’s creator and French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, in late January.
It is almost guaranteed that Facebook’s memberships and online influence will continue to grow. However, we, the users, could benefit from being a bit more circumspect and aware of some of the challenges to which we might be susceptible in an online social network.
Have you activated the secure “https” feature on your Facebook account?
How has Facebook improved your life?
Have you ever had a bad experience on Facebook?