Sharing, Relationships and Facebook’s destruction of traditional human behaviour.

It’s a word that is now more synonymous with self-marketing on social media platforms, rather than the sentiment of the act itself.

I come from a group of people who began their internet use in the early to mid 90’s.
I spent most of my time from 1995 to 2001 on mIRC, chatting with my group of likeminded friends and occasionally physically meeting up with them for awkward fun times in the line outside HMV, waiting for Marilyn Manson’s signature.

I had an opendiary from the age of 16, a livejournal from the age of 18, and a myspace, about a year or so before Facebook became the juggernaut that it now is. “Sharing” is something I’ve done since the internet first entered my world.

All of these online hangouts cultivated a genuine sense of community, of togetherness, rather than the self-marketing narcissism that we now encounter on Facebook. Behaviour I am guilty of displaying on a daily basis.

Until Facebook, the internet felt fairly safe. Small, yet full of possibility. It felt like the things you said, the pictures you posted – all of that was yours. It was under your control. And it was very easy for you to see who had access to view such things. There was a sense of fairness and transparency that doesn’t seem to exist anymore – not just on the internet, but in the world in general.

Everything is so tangled up in hidden terms and conditions, or language so convoluted that you need a degree in Contract Law to understand even the most basic transactions. I think most can be summed up as such: “You, the consumer, are getting screwed, and paying for that privelege”.

In Facebook and Google’s case, you, the user, are not the consumer, you are in fact, the product, which means that Facebook only gives enough of a shit about you and your rights to keep you using their service, so they can keep selling your behaviour to marketing companies.

Fine. They exist to make money, like any other corporation, and they haven’t exactly lied about the fact that it’s you who makes them their money. It is what it is in this day and age.

My problem with Facebook is what its dominance of society has done to people, and is doing to entire generations of people who know no other way of life.

Around two or more years ago, a very good friend of mine decided to delete her Facebook. Her reasons behind it have always stuck with me.

“I realised I was using my friends as my own personal Entertainment Roll”, she explained.

She found herself getting annoyed if a usually-funny friend was mediocre that day, or was posting something serious and depressing. She was seeing them not as her friends, but as objects that existed to entertain her in the way she expected them to, and she was not engaging in their lives, merely watching as an outsider, liking here, commenting there.

I’ve found myself either being treated in that manner, or absolutely hating people I barely know, based on their Facebook posts.

Beside that point, humans, naturally, as they age, lose friends. Our social circles shrink to allow us the mental, emotional and physical space to raise families and focus on careers, or whatever it is that is most important to us. Facebook forces us to acknowledge and interact with people we didn’t even interact with when they existed physically in our lives, even if the interaction is just a mental one – acknowledging that they are on your friends list, and whatever you say may offend them. You may not really care about offending them, but that anxiety is there, in the back of your mind.

The problem is that with such social pressure to add people, we end up sharing things with the people who would least like to know that information. People like our families and coworkers.

There are certainly solutions to the problems outlined above. We can always remove people from our friends list, and then deal with whatever social fallout may come of it. We can create filters, and spend hours arranging our friends and family members into groups, which will further allow us to pick and choose what we share with whom.

But all of that is a lot of work, and quite frankly, it takes up time that could be put to much more constructive uses than maintaining unnatural relationships simply because “that’s the way the world is, now”.

I can’t deny that Facebook has given me positive things, including wonderful connections with people I didn’t interact so much with in my former, face to face life with them.

Unfortunately, I just feel that Facebook is now taking more from me than it is giving, and it is encouraging me to take a back seat in regard to the manner in which I maintain my friendships.

Most of what it is taking, I’m not even entirely aware of.

Facebook’s ability to reach large numbers of people with your message is only as effective as the audience with which you share that message. I may have 370 Facebook friends, but unless I actively engage with each and every one of their personal pages on a constant basis, or vice versa, my posts will disappear from their NewsFeed. If you Facebook solely via your NewsFeed, you are only interacting with the same, relatively small number of people – people with which you are most likely to already share common opinions on most topics.

So what’s the point of sharing on Facebook?

Is it to get a pat on the back for being one of the first to show it to your friends? Is it to generate that warm feeling of “I’m right. A lot of people are agreeing with me”.

It certainly made all the sharing of ideas I did in the run up to our recent Federal Election rather pointless – everyone who actually spoke about it on my NewsFeed all had the same opinion as I did. I wanted to reach those who were indifferent, or those who wanted to vote Liberal. I wanted to be able to at least provoke thought or discussion. Unfortunately, most of the discussion that was provoked was “Facebook is not the place to discuss politics”, or “I wish the election would just be over, I’m sick of hearing about it”.

Thankfully, that same person who deleted her Facebook a few years ago is still very much a large part of my life. In fact, she is the person who taught me that true relationships are about engaging. They are about being honest, even when it’s going to hurt someone’s feelings. They’re about having integrity. And they’re about you, going out of your way to make the effort to share your life with someone else.

Facebook makes it easy for us to tell a whole bunch of people something. It generates conversation. But it’s all surface bullshit. It’s the narcissistic mask that the user wants to share with the world. It’s always on that person’s terms.

This morning, my non-Facebook friend sent another article she found interesting to the mailing list she has created of her friends and family with whom she frequently discusses well, anything, actually. That email generated real sharing amongst relative strangers who have come to know each other through our mutual friend’s stories, and through our own Reply Alls.

We come from very different backgrounds, with very different life experiences, which creates such a large picture of what are usually society’s most complex issues – everything from gender equality to mental health, fitness plans and pop culture. In that tiny little environment known as our inbox, we are throwing ideas, opinions and observations at each other, opening each others eyes to pieces of the puzzle that would never have occurred to us otherwise.

We are sharing knowledge and experience and it is exciting. It is meaningful. It engages our thoughts and interest for more time than it takes to click “like”, and I feel far more gratification from these email exchanges than I’ve ever felt from any response to my Facebook posts.

I’m not threatening to leave Facebook right now, though I am definitely considering it.

Besides, I’m too old to have 270 friends. As if I can be bothered writing that many “heartfelt” birthday messages when my NewsFeed prompts me to…


Australia: Where Big Brother hasn’t simply returned to television

With each day that passes, our freedoms are being stripped from us in silent back rooms by powerful and wealthy men (and possibly women with a smattering of glass in their hair).

Last month, the Attorney General set up a Parliamentary Inquiry into potential reforms of national security legislation. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has prepared a Discussion Paper which is available on their website.

The proposed reforms seek to force ISPs and phone companies to keep a record of every article you’ve read online, every item you’ve bought online and every email or text message you’ve sent for a period of two years, which is to be provided to the Government at its request.

The recurring argument of “if you have nothing to hide, it shouldn’t matter” is redundant.

If you knew that someone could use every bored or curious, late night internet browse, and every drunk, angry or joke text message that you’ve sent over the past two years to support any claims of terrorist activity, would it change the way in which you used these devices?

As someone who sometimes has difficulty sleeping and spends a lot of time watching serial killer/conspiracy/secret organisation documentaries, it certainly makes me pause. Used out of context, my entire internet and text message history would be damning.

When I read Orwell’s 1984 as a young teenager, the prospect of a world such as that horrified me. That sense of horror has never left me. The torture of being locked out of your mind lest you be reported for committing a thought-crime kept me awake many nights throughout that book, and in the days that have followed.

Personal phone and internet use has always been an extension of thought, whether it be blogging such as this, or seeking answers to the myriad questions we constantly have in our minds.

I don’t have anything to hide, I haven’t committed a crime and nor do I intend to, but the mere knowledge that the fact that I downloaded a book on the Order of Skull and Bones whilst watching a documentary on 9/11 conspiracies could possibly, one day be used against me to substantiate terrorism claims feels rather akin to being placed under surveillance by thinkpol, to me.

I don’t think I’m important enough to ever be in that situation but you never know what the future holds.

It is certainly true that laws need to be updated to reflect the gargantuan leaps technology has made, but that should not include mandatory data retention of internet/phone usage of every single Australian citizen on the off chance that one of them is a terrorist.

The risk of these powers being abused either by a Government (ours or otherwise) who wishes to silence someone, or by a criminal wishing to use the information for their own nefarious purposes are far too great to allow these legislative reforms to be passed.

On Monday 20th August (yes, this coming Monday), submissions regarding this inquiry close.

The Australian Greens have set up a submission form, pre-populated with a suggested letter which can be overwritten should you choose to do so.

Alternatively, the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security website has information on how to prepare a submission as well as accepted formats.

I strongly urge you to enter a submission. Your very life and identity could be the casualty of complacency.

Drowning in hatred, one Facebook group at a time

Most of us have occasionally laughed at a politically incorrect joke in our time, even made some, but in the general sense of things, they’re relatively harmless observations on life that aren’t designed to hurt.

Over the past twelve months, and in particular the most recent few, my Facebook has been inundated with pages of hate groups that aren’t harmless observations on life, but cesspools of abhorrence aimed at the most vulnerable people in our society – the physically, mentally, terminally ill and the groups of people who don’t fit the mould in a society that demands conformity above the freedom of individuality.

These are groups created by and for keyboard warriors who are nothing more than vessels of hatred; useless members of society who undermine any good they may do in their real life, off-the-internet world by the atrocities they commit behind the relative anonymity of their computers.

Families set up memorial Facebook pages for their lost loved ones as a place to share their memories, or to communicate funeral details, to raise support or awareness of the bullying, disease or depression that claimed the life of their loved one(s). Even these pages, dripping with heartbreak, are a playground for the aforementioned useless members of society whose lives are so lacking that they get their kicks by torturing the vulnerable.

Many people rise up against these groups on the group pages, inadvertently feeding the trolls who have been sitting at home masturbating over their own hatespews, just waiting for someone else to come along, disturbed and outraged by the contents of the page; fresh meat for them to tear into.

Facebook has the means to shut these groups down.

If these groups clog my news feed, thanks to the many ways in which Facebook likes to inform me of every single piece of activity my friendslist indulges in, then the great Facebook Powers That Be are certainly also aware of these groups. The fact that they get reported for violation of the TOS would certainly bring them to their attention, right?

I’m not saying that you can stop every one of these pages being created, but Facebook certainly has the money to spend on a department whose sole purpose is to attend to pages and groups reported to them for violation of the TOS. They state that they have the right to remove these pages so that is exactly what they should be doing.

As the largest social networking site in the world, this needs to be a bigger priority than it is.

This group, 1,000,000 Normal People Against Sick Hate Pages has been created not as a platform to discuss moral or ethical issues, but as a place for people to unite against the proliferation of all hate pages collectively, rather than individual hate groups. Its main goal is to reach Facebook admins and force them to shut these groups down. This group will not tolerate any hatred or negativity. Comments along that vein will be deleted, as will the users who post them. Zero tolerance.

This group is fully aware that you’ll never stop people from creating these sick pages, but constant vigilance is required to protect Facebook’s users – the people who willingly give out the goldmine of information that Facebook sells to the people who give them their money. Without the users, Facebook has nothing and this is the internet – the new Facebook will arise to offer users a better experience someday, when people are too tired of wading through shit just so they can keep up with the lives of their friends.

For my part, I won’t go onto those hate pages and feed the trolls, but if any of my Facebook friends participate in any of the hatred that is spewed onto them, I will hold them accountable for it on their own personal page.

This might be the internet, the biggest argument-hall the world has ever known, but its lack of consequences also allows people to be someone they would never be in the face-to-face real world.

Words are the most powerful tool we have as a species. The written language is what has allowed civilization to excel, expand and to conquer the constraints laid down by nature.

Don’t waste them on hatred. Think about the things you are saying. Ask yourself, would you ever say this to someone in the real world? The answer is probably no, and while this message will be laughed at by those people whose only form of entertainment is hate-mongering, like all bullies, when they no longer have an audience to cheer them on, they’ll soon grow tired of it.

Use your voice to support a good cause instead of playing the sycophantic little sidekick. The internet is no longer this ethereal playground, separate to our day-to-day lives. The internet IS our day-to-day lives, and it’s our key to salvation. Treat it and the rest of its users with respect.

Freedom of speech regardless, It isn’t difficult to use manners.

Edit: 18/08/2012

I would just like to clarify that I am all for free speech – including opinions that I don’t agree with as that is the basic fundamental principle of having free speech.

My issue with these groups is that Facebook, The Great and Powerful, who are making infinity dollars out of the information gleaned from user habits, specifies in its Terms of Use at this address that:

Hate Speech
Facebook does not permit hate speech. While we encourage you to challenge ideas, institutions, events, and practices, it is a serious violation to attack a person based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition.

The truth of the matter is, Facebook does permit hate speech, as all of the reports against the hate pages that I have made have been answered by Facebook admins stating that “After reviewing your report, we were not able to confirm that the specific page you reported violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.”