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To face it or not - that is the question

When in 2007 I opened my Facebook account - actually it was a course module requirement of my digital media tutor - Facebook was unheard of locally and pretty much internationally. Members could be counted in the hundreds in those days; now they are millions.

One requisite on registering was the security aspect, that is, how visible your page would be for anyone who happens to log on. Having learned to be wary about digital media and social freeware, I went for the most secure option.

Whenever I mentioned Facebook to my peers years ago I used to get blank faces; now they have an account, of course; I mean who hasn't? People from all walks of life in Malta talk about Facebook as casually as they do about the weather, and with more interest.

Is this fixation with Facebook good or bad?

When I have the luxury of opening my homepage and browse through the requests sent to me by my friends, the best part of an afternoon is over. I don't open my account as religiously as my contacts do, judging, by their frequent postings.

The recent case involving inflammatory comments about the Pope was an incident waiting to happen. When I get the rare chance I even browse to see the friends of my friends' entries. Yes, this facility is available.

Some of the language used is very graphic indeed; people literally write what they would say face to face. Some words I'm pretty sure are not used on 'polite occasions' by these same people.

How many are aware that there is an active box near each entry which recommends the viewer to report offensive behaviour of any sort, even written words? The creators of Facebook evidently know all too well the hazards of freely available software. Facebook also have the option of deleting anything one writes.

People tend to be rather polarised on this issue of technology and social networks. I am neutral in the sense that I can see the bad and the good in it; just as I look at most things, I guess. I have seen photographs of social gatherings of all sorts, outings, holidays, weddings and the birth of infants. Is that good or bad?

So far I have not had the time or the inclination to paste any photos there. But then I'm far from picture perfect.

However, a word of caution for the 'community bloggers' (because essentially that's how Facebook is used). What is put on the Web and is easily accessible can lead to various circumstances, some funny, some sad, and some unhappy. Sometimes, pictures and social software can make for an unhappy marriage.

Ultimately it is up to us how much we want to display or what we say in public. A rule of thumb I use is: if this were being said/shown in public would it be for the select few or for anyone who happens to be strolling by? That way, headaches can be minimised for social network users.

Social networking is constantly evolving, with one online social network replacing the other. Facebook pretty much replaced Hi5 and Ning, for example. Current competitors like Zorpia are also finding it hard going to compete; so Facebook seems set to be around for a quite a while.

Like any social activity, this method of virtual interaction has to have the respective society's values and norms identified and applied, just like in any other traditional social activity.

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