Why is it that people hate Facebook so much? The fifth anniversary of the website has been met with acerbic tirades, like that from Janet Street Porter last week in her Daily Mail article ‘Why I hate Facebook’
. You don’t have to know very much about social networking sites to read Street Porter’s article and just feel plain irritated with the lack of decent research that has gone into her essay (compare it instead with the much more informed and for that reason if nothing else more interesting NY Times article on Digital Intimacy
by Clive Thompson). For example, one of Street Porter’s key objections is that virtual relationships are not ‘real’, and connect ‘strangers’. She says: They [social networking sites] are pernicious because they delude users into thinking they are experiencing and managing real relationships, when in truth they are connecting with a gang of people - often strangers - tapping away to each other in cyber-space.
She clearly hasn’t looked at the empirical research that points out that the dynamic between ‘Friends’ in Facebook (not other sites) is that users primarily use the site to connect with those they already know from the offline world, and use this to generate benefits in social capital (Ellison, Steinfield and Lampe 2006
) that feed into those offline friendships that she rightly points out are so important.
Now, I’m not saying that Facebook is without controversy – it clearly is, for lots of very good reasons. But if you’re going to write in a public forum about the dangers of social networking, it is better to make sense of what exactly the gains and losses of sites like Facebook are in relation to more than a personalised, anecdotal response.
Labels: facebook journalism