Facebook is part of the lives for a huge number of people worldwide. It has allowed many people to communicate in an instant throughout the day (and night!) and probably been instrumental in millions of real time liaisons, often resulting in permanent relationships. It is loved by most and has opened the ‘doors’ of communication to a vast number of people who may have normally remained lonely, isolated and friendless. Yes, Facebook has a great deal going for it.
It has its downsides too. Many of the so-called ‘friendships’ are shallow, unreal and possibly dangerous. Communicating with someone you have never met can have its issues; namely distance, possible misinformation, criminal activity, ‘grooming’ and downright misrepresentation of character and identity. That is just a short list.
Those issues have always been with us but Facebook allows for a far greater participation in social interaction for a huge number of people. Facebook often changes the way it runs and its rules. If a person is not up with the play, they can be left ‘exposed’ to the surveillance of countless millions of people they do not know, in any sense of the word. Hence, it could be said that Facebook is potentially a dangerous space for the naïve, young and not so young. Trust is a word, not a reality for many users.
For those of us who work with young people, we know that Facebook is an integral part of their lives. We see their ups and downs; the dangers, the sadness and anger when things go wrong. In its extreme, it can be life threatening as young people grapple with their own problems, issues and life journeys. Parents are often totally unaware of the actions and activities of their children online; not just with Facebook of course.
Facebook can be all consuming; taking young people out of their reality and interrupting other important tasks, including education, participation in other ‘healthier activities and risking the formation of real time and place friendships. Tell any teenager that and they will vehemently disagree with you, conveniently forgetting that they may well have been the ‘butt’ of a cruel ‘gossip circle’ in the past week.
Those working with young people are themselves barely able to keep up with social media developments; Facebook just being one of them. We should all assume that the kids are way ahead of us in such matters. Thereon lays a danger. We as adults, parents and caregivers are not up with the play for the most part. Below the surface of the young peoples’ behaviours there is often a whole lot going on that we have no idea about. Facebook may be the ‘header,’ but the machinations will be totally hidden, leaving us thinking that the sullen mood is ‘just one of those things’ that teenagers go through.
Leaving things alone and doing nothing is no longer an option. We must become more familiar with the good and the less good of Facebook and others (yet to come!) social media platforms. We indeed have our work cut out for us. One thing we can do is be open to communication with our ‘charges,’ be we parents, teachers, counsellors or anyone else with a stake in the future of our young people.