Has Facebook Become Toxic?

Yes, I believe Facebook (FB)has become to relationships and society as a whole. I think it’s time for an honest evaluation of our social media. Before I get into why, let’s look back at the origins of this social media conglomerate.

Origins

It may surprise you to know that the original idea behind Facebook was, shall I say, less than admirable. In fact, it was a bit self-serving. In 2003, Mark Zuckerberg thought it would be a great way to identify the “hottest” girls on campus. He fashioned this first attempt after a similar site, Hot or Not where users rated photos of women in terms of the most attractive. Nice, Zuckerberg! To generate the list, this enterprising entrepreneur hacked into the college system and stole the private, dormitory ID images of students. Called Facemash, the site had more than 22,000 photo views within the first four hours online. A couple of days later, the school shut it down.

Although, the site seemed like a good idea, at the time, Mr. Zuckerberg soon discovered stealing private information for the purpose starting a babe site had its drawbacks and consequences. Yet, in spite of the threat of expulsion and legal trouble, he was not to be dissuaded. Instead, he went back to the drawing board, wrote another program and in 2004, TheFacebook.com (later shortened to Facebook) was up and running. This time with a different or more expanded purpose — a place where the brilliant students of Harvard could connect and share notes (sure).

Initially, the program remained restricted to the Harvard campus, but soon expanded to all Ivy League schools. The site grew faster than kudzu in the South and By 2006, anyone over the age 13 could join, create a profile and start socializing — making “friends,” uploading pictures, videos, comment, and “liking” whatever suited their mood at the time.

Pinterest

The company went public in 2012 and in July of 2015, Standard & Poor’s 500 Index listed Facebook as the fastest growing social network in the world with a market cap, of $250 billion.

The Dark Side

There’s a dark side to Facebook that few want to acknowledge or discuss; but, with 1.65 billion active, monthly users, members have the ear of the world and little if any accountability.

What began as an avenue to share class notes, make new friends, and score a hot date, soon evolved into much more — a popularity contest of sorts. Young members started measuring their self-worth based on the number of friends, or likes they received. Pictures started pushing the boundaries with the express purpose of gaining more friends and “likes.” Bullies used it to wreck havoc on vulnerable teenager. Bullying had a new, secret and sinister avenue and pedophiles a picture gallery from which to choose and parents, far behind in technology, were clueless.

According to The Best Degrees, the seven most common FB crimes include: 1) Scams — enticing members to click on a link designed for the purpose of stealing private or financial information. 2)Cyberbullying — a particularly vicious crime against the youngest and most vulnerable with harmful and even deadly consequences. 3) Stalking — you know, repeatedly visiting ones profile, leaving or harassing messages, or threats often progressing to actual in person stalking and to the point the victim is terrorized. 4) Robbery — it never ceases to amaze me how often people on FB announce to the world they are going on vacation. With Google maps, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to locate your home address. 5) Identity theft — hackers are more proficient than you can imagine. Opening the wrong link can provide all your vital statistics necessary to steal your identity. “More than 600,000 Facebook accounts are compromised very day.” 6) Defamation- posting false information about a person or business that affects them negatively. It’s more difficult that you think to prove an untruth. 7) Harassment- persistent messages, inappropriate comments, or threats (a common FB occurrence).

Seeds of Division

What began as a bridge connecting people has, instead, driven a wedge between us. Status updates have become soapboxes for the latest cause, opinion, or outright voice of animosity. Language once frowned upon in civil society is now commonplace, as is name-calling and shaming. Labels like bigot, racist, homophobe, xenophobe are thrown at each other as easily as hello. Family, friends, and even strangers, routinely find themselves in pissing contests over someone’s status update or comment. Emotions, raw with exaggerated or misplaced passions expose skin so thin, we’re offended at the slightest word. Trust is at an all time low and fear of saying the wrong thing at an all time high. The rancor and animosity expressed on FB throughout the presidential campaign and still, have left friendships strained and users frustrated. According to the Pew Research Center,

“More than one-third of social media users are worn out by the amount of political content they encounter, and more than half describe their online interactions with those they disagree with politically as stressful and frustrating.”

Facebook has evolved from its questionable “hot babes” startup to come full circle as an instrument of misinformation, bias, hatred, and where crimes are now streamed live, including rape, murder, suicide, and acts of terror. Connections between people have become tenuous, eroded trust, and created confusion. We no longer know whom or what to believe or how to differentiate between truth and lies. We reached out to connect with others but are find ourselves further apart than ever.

Without the nuances of genuine face-to-face conversations (facial expressions, tone, body language) we lose true connections. Our words become more about being right than connecting. When we can hide behind a user name, or don’t have to face the confusion and hurt on another’s face, words come easy regardless of the consequences.

Yes, I believe Facebook has become toxic to each other, our kids and society. We’ve lost the thread of common decency, civility, the ability to disagree, or demonstrate old-fashioned manners.

Personally, I think it’s time we did something — perhaps sign off, pick up a phone, invite someone to lunch and start connecting face to face, again.