As goes the proverbial saying, “When winter comes can spring be far behind?” In February 2004, Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook. Now, with over 955 million active users worldwide, one often wonders what makes Facebook this compelling?
With a simple click, Facebook has enabled us to reunite with long lost friends, family and acquaintances across the world. The site is also a cohesive platform to virtually unite groups with similar interests and missions. Politicians and campaign organisers now have access to better analyse their voter bases through their Facebook fan groups. According to one New York Times article, the Facebook application “US Politics on Facebook” was installed by more than one million people. On the marketing and advertising front, Facebook launched a new portal in 2011 to enable brands to be promoted on the site. Moreover, surprisingly, Facebook has also become a valid source of evidence in legal cases in some countries.
What is interesting is that despite all the apparent perils, the majority of us are “addicted”. However, more than any of the (albeit undeniable) boons mentioned above, we must accede to the fact that rarely can one topple the argument of human nature and its quest for curiosity. The entertainment value of watching a seemingly relevant narrative evolve in real time is quite unparalleled. Every mood swing recorded, every romantic gesture updated (sometimes via photographs), every itinerary shared and almost every relationship status “liked”. Some argue that Facebook is yet another contemporary source of escapism, where people willingly place their privacy on public display and enjoy the consequent attention it attracts.
What is ironic though is the single area where privacy is maintained in an uncompromised fashion on Facebook: the mystery of whom we search. The anonymity of our gaze is also an undoubtedly pivotal reason for the success of the site. As another New York Times article stated, “every Facebook act is a soliloquy to our anonymous audience”.
For a plethora of reasons, Facebook remains the focal point of much controversy. Countries including Iran, Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China, Uzbekistan, Syria and Bangladesh have banned Facebook at various points in time. The site has been banned in many countries on the premise of allowing content that is religiously discriminatory and in some cases anti-Islamic. Several workplaces have disallowed usage due to time being wasted during office hours.
An interesting analogy for the question of compromised confidentiality arose with the release of internal State Department wires by WikiLeaks. The general impression shared was one of apprehension at how governments were expected to undertake complex, often conflicting dialogues on global relationships and international affairs, with privacy at stake. Another New York Times article stated “In other words, it becomes impossible to think. And, imagine that: apparently governments need to think”.
With the Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, stating his ambition to be able to chart a “social graph” of human relationships (similar to the way cartographers charted the world), the social media canvas is fast expanding and counting. And the silver lining of spring seems to be dwindling as our addiction gets exacerbated with each passing day.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2012.