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Heard it through the Grapevine…or Facebook

Posted by Somebody's Mother on 7:49 PM

I can’t believe Michael Jackson is dead.
Michael Jackson is dead?

This snippet of dialogue did not take place in a face to face conversation. It passed over the course of a few hours on the social networking site, Facebook. Millions of people all over the world are using free web sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and many others to communicate with their friends, family and with people that they may have never met. Through Facebook, I have tracked down and been tracked down by people that I knew in elementary school and high school and have renewed these friendships. Whereas Facebook used to be the exclusive domain of high school and university students, we middle aged types have invaded and we like it. Many writers say that the young will just move on to other social networking sites but one of my uses for Facebook is to stay in touch with former students and it’s working well for that.

Interestingly enough, social networking sites are now becoming a means of obtaining news and commentary and a means of mobilizing social action. In a short article on a blog for newspaper editors, Ellyn Angelotti pointed out “…that it is more likely that people would look at what their friends and social network would suggest, as opposed to editors.” I found a poignant example of that this week in relation to the way that I found out about the need to boil tap water in Lennoxville. I happened to check my work email address and found an email advising all employees that the water supply was contaminated with bacteria and that it would be necessary to boil our cooking and drinking water.

When I went on my Facebook page, I found a lively discussion going on by a few of my Lennoxville acquaintances in my newsfeed. In the case of the Lennoxville water situation, 5-7 people commented on how Lennoxville might have communicated the water situation more effectively. One person gave a brief summary of her visit to the borough office to express her concerns. In turn, others commented on this.

This is a local example of how Facebook is used the world over for discussion on the bigger issues. There are citizens’ groups, fan clubs, student organizations, etc. on Facebook who can also issue invitations to events to its members who can in turn simply click on yes-or-no buttons to indicate whether or not they will participate in these events.

While this looks very democratic, some countries - for example, Russia and China - are expressing concern at the way the Internet might be used to convey anti-government messages. There are many reports of citizens being arrested for email messages and postings that are perceived to be out of line. While no such threat appears to be apparent in Canada or the United States, North American critics of social networking sites have grave concerns about issues of privacy. Users of Facebook are no strangers to these discussions as the controversy of ownership of photos and text showed some months back.

With the advent of censorship and DDO attacks on web sites, both governments and independent groups with an axe to grind are finding ways to circumvent the democratic possibilities of the Internet. An interesting article on Internet and power in the magazine, Dissent, gave examples of government sponsorship of DDO’s in China and Russia which were able to crash web sites and private parties have been able to crash web sites published by gay organizations as well. We need to watch this situation very carefully and how North American governments will look to control the Internet.

Sites such as Facebook hold a lot of promise to help people stay in touch with another, particularly for people who are shut in due to physical disability. As baby boomers get older, Facebook will help us be in touch with the world and each other and if history is any example, we will not be silent.

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