Five years ago my son, who had recently returned from his mission, went to Las Vegas for the weekend with a girl. No, he didn’t come back married--they never were more than friends. But the girl sent me an email inviting me to join Facebook so I could view all the pictures they took while touring Las Vegas. I thought Facebook was the coolest thing ever. I was in the Stake Young Women’s Presidency at the time and I began posting pictures of our Stake activities on Facebook in hopes it would encourage the youth to attend.
But Facebook evolved, and morphed into something I never imagined. Overnight it became a mega-phenomenon, and everybody who was anybody had a Facebook account; Facebook was essential to being part of the “in” crowd, a great way to “dis” the unwanted and to “hook-up” illicitly. Like the Internet in general, a tool that can be used for tremendous good, can also be used for tremendous bad. The concern is, we all jumped on the Facebook bandwagon so quickly, particularly our teenagers, do we fully comprehend the dangers of Facebook?
I first became concerned when I noticed Facebook was too often used as a popularity contest. It was often an arrogant, self-aggrandizing way to keep track of your own fan club. People post pictures in order to “brag” about how cool their life is, what original things they do with their weekends, what exotic places they go on their vacations. They want to be admired, perhaps even envied. Why else tell 400 people you hardly know how you spent your summer vacation? People who post every detail of their life so that 400 fans can ogle them remind me of a small-time celebrity appeasing his fan club.
In contrast, does the person with 400 friends actually visit the pages of all those friends? If he does, I’ll bet you it’s to make comparisons. He wants to see if any of other 400 friends has as amazing a life, or as hot a girlfriend, or as fancy a car. Like President Benson said, “It’s the comparison that make us proud, the pleasure of being above the rest.” Too often the life of the Facebook user isn’t inherently satisfying. It’s only satisfying if it is superior to someone else’s life.
Because Facebook has become a contest to determine “who has the biggest fan club,” Facebook users collect friends like sea shells. They just keep adding people to their site indiscriminately. Anyone could be added as a friend, whether they actually knew the person they friend-requesting them or not. The more friends they had the more popular they felt.
One of my friends was in the habit of accepting anyone who sent a friend-request. Some of my more voyeuristic clients found ways to stalk me through her Facebook site. One client would ask me about trips I had taken when I had never even told him that I was traveling. It was totally creepy. I felt like I was living What About Bob? Admittedly, those who are not psychotherapists don’t have to worry as much about Bob joining Facebook to access their personal lives. However, without proper blocks, friends on Facebook can visit friends who can visit friends, so personal information is often spread like a communicable disease.
Why does anyone need to keep in touch with 400 people that they hardly ever see, people they would never go out of their way to contact, were it not as easy as it is on Facebook? Many of these people aren’t even important enough to the Facebook user to send a Christmas card once a year. He probably doesn’t even have their phone number or their snail-mail address. Yet they know intimate details about his life—when he finds love, when he loses love, how he celebrates love. Most of these 400 people the Facebook user would not think of calling to inform of his father’s death, yet they will show up at the funeral because they found out about it on Facebook. Facebook makes all friends equal and therefore no one is truly special.
If my daughter-in-law emails me photos of my grandbaby I know she wants me, personally, to see those pictures. She is sharing something special to her because I am special to her. It says something about our relationship. If she posts those pictures on Facebook for anyone and everyone to see, I am in no way honored. Does she care about me? Does she care if I celebrate with her? Not anymore than the other 399 people who get to see the photos.
Of further concern is the fact that Facebook makes it so easy to communicate it has eliminated social graces. When one young man changed his status on Facebook from “in a relationship” to “engaged,” 400 of his most distant friends knew about his pending marriage before his grandmother and grandfather. Grandma was not pleased. I wanted to honor a friend by showing her the photos in my wallet of my new grandbaby, but she had already seen the photos... on Facebook. Without proper blocks, there is no hierarchy of friends on Facebook. Your siblings, your fiancé, or your spouse can have the very same access to your information as the guy you met while on a cruise last summer. It’s possible to discriminate and post photos for only certain people to see, but does anybody?
Facebook can cause tremendous offence. Besides promoting pride, violating people’s privacy, eliminating social graces and dismissing those who are truly important to you, Facebook can cause offence if you turn down a friend-request, if you post pictures of a party not everyone was invited to, or any number of ways. One of my clients told me the following story: Her sister and brother-in-law were visiting from a nearby state. While in town they promised to take her three children to the outstanding Jacksonville Zoo. For days the children anxiously awaited their trip to the zoo. Finally the sister and brother-in-law announced they had too much to do at home, and would not be able to take the nieces and nephews to the zoo because they had to go home early. To add insult to injury, a few days later my client saw, posted on her sister’s Facebook page, photos of her and her husband enjoying the Jacksonville zoo—without their nieces and nephews.
Facebook users are, at times, blatantly rude. A stake president was a member of an organization that only communicated its meeting times and locations via Facebook. The stake president did not want to open Facebook account yet the organization refused to send him notice of their events in any other way. He decided if his presence was not important enough to him to send an individual e-mail, his presence was not important.
Of even greater concern is the ease of “hooking up” via Facebook. I was outraged when some of my psychotherapy clients started pursuing romantic relationships with old flames they had become re-acquainted with on Facebook. I sat dumbfounded across the couch from an LDS mother of five as she described how she was no longer in love with her husband, but passionately in love with a boy she hadn’t seen since 11th grade. This woman had actually had served a mission and had a strong testimony of the gospel! Another married client feigned a business trip in a far away city so he could hook up with an old friend he had found on Facebook.
It is easy to conclude that adults, particularly married adults, have no business spending time on Facebook. They remind me of women who dress up in their sexiest clothes and go bar-hopping. They always tell me they “just like to dance,” that they have no intention of hooking up with some guy, but look what happens. Facebook is a social networking site. Girls, even the single girls, primarily visit the boys’ pages. For the most part, the reason they visit the pages of other girls to assess their competition. How often do guys visit the pages of other guys?
In my cautions to Facebook users, I haven’t yet mentioned the tremendous time-waster that Facebook can become. I have seen mothers completely neglect their children because they were addicted to communicating with their Facebook friends. Furthermore, as Elder Bednar pointed out in his address, “Things as They Really Are,” we must note that Facebook users can become more committed to their on-line friendships then they are to their flesh-and-blood friends.
Naturally some of you will come up with several good reasons to use Facebook, just as I have delineated a plethora of reasons why it stinks. Granted, Facebook could have its functions. I was looking for a book that I needed to read for a book club once. The library was out, the bookstores were sold out, and I needed to read it before I could get it from Amazon. My savvy sister posted my need on Facebook, and within hours two people offered up copies of the book for me to read. That’s the benefit of Facebook. If people would stop flirting, cheating, comparing, beating, besting, minimizing and stalking, I might convert.