Facebook first became popular with young people of university age. They use it to co-ordinate their social lives, alongside mobile phones, to share photos and generally add an extra dimension to the fun side of being at uni. There are more ways in which it can be used, but I think that remains the basis.
Working in education technology, I started to use Facebook to see what potential it might have in the educational sphere. At the start, I didn’t find Facebook particularly enthralling. I’m not a young uni student and I don’t need it to co-ordinate my social life. However as more of my social circles began to use it and I found it to be quite a good way to keep in touch with a range of distributed social networks. These include family who live at a distance, old school friends, friends I used to live near but no longer see as regularly, OU work colleagues and a close-knit social circle based around the shared weekly activity of Morris Dancing. Indeed, the Morris side has moved its website onto Facebook so when you click the website address, you get routed to a Facebook page which makes it much easier to maintain a dynamic web presence.
The vast majority of my Facebook contacts were over 30 when they started using it.
For the most part, all runs fairly smoothly. People post amusing links or anecdotes on their walls to which others respond in a lively and comic vein. Videos and photos get posted which help people keep in touch and all in all it provides a pleasant diversion.
However sometimes the status updates and comments are not so amusing – there are oblique and unpleasant references to other members of the social circle. Allusions to intrigues and references to personal issues that would really be better kept out of the public domain. I have also seen parents who effectively stalk their offspring on facebook, commenting on their posts and photos in a way that must make the kids cringe and sometimes drives them to “unfriend” their own parents.
I was talking to my daughter about these behaviours. She has grown up with facebook and in her opinion, “older people” just don’t know how to use social networking properly. She pointed out that when young people use facebook, they are also meeting up with their facebook contacts during the evening and day. This means that if they start posting inappropriate and tedious status updates on their wall, or on the walls of others, their friends will tell them in no uncertain terms. Along the lines of “Why on earth are you whinging about your boyfriend dumping you. Nobody is interested, get over it”. She suggested that young people get “trained” in the appropriate way to use the technology. She is strongly of the opinion that “older people” miss out on this essential learning stage.
This may be true. But from what she said, there are also young people who misuse Facebook as a vehicle for cyber-harassment. If they continue with the nasty posts, she simply blocks them and because she sees them on a daily basis, she tells them that she is blocking them because she doesn’t want to see their unpleasant comments. However it is possible that these young people simply carry on. Is inappropriate use of social networks the result of older people lacking a fundamental understanding of how to use them. Or will young cyber-bullies grow up to be old cyber-harassers? Do bullies of all ages simply deploy the new technologies that they encounter to extend their bullying activities into the online sphere, attempting to use the social media as another way to isolate and undermine their victims?