The Ugly Face of Facebook

Another weekend, and another carefully calculated self-love link fest where some A lister makes a bold and basically useless announcement, and others rush to support. If you want to increase your link count, writing self-centered, arrogant, and useless posts with bald titles filled with hyperbole works rather well.

What was particularly sad about this weekend’s lovefest, though, is that the subject was about Facebook but didn’t reflect the real story that was going around: the bias and bigotry in Facebook against older people.

I didn’t last on Facebook enough to see it’s ugly face. I found out about such through Ronnie Bennett, odd time signature, and Freydblog. What they found was an undercurrent of hatred against older people, manifested in groups like the following:

F*CK** OLD PEOPLE: 107 members
Asking old people for a quarter then throwing it in there face…..hahaha!: 143 members
I Beat up old people: 53 members
I like to beat the living crap out of old people. (sic): 15 members
Pill pushing nurses to the possessed elderly….: 32 members
Eradicating the elderly: 12 members
If this group reaches 2′000 people, i will push a old lady down the stiars: (sic) 164 members

Among the messages posted to the groups:

Let us unite and join for a common cause, abolish social security and legalize euthanasia.

Who is with me on this, who thinks old people in school should be taken into the quad and be tarred and feathered for their annoyance , stupidity, and outright wasting of time.

Maria also writes on this topic:

I must admit, when I first signed on to Facebook, I felt a bit like a teenager sneaking into the house late at night, hoping not to wake up the parents — or, in this case, catch the attention of the kids. Reading the quotes Ronni gathered from Facebook makes the blood run cold in my veins, as does the realization that you can’t delete your account on Facebook, only deactivate it. (In some strange way, this maybe a blessing for the old-hating young whose words may well come back to bite them in their eventually sagging asses…)

(Maria also links to other good posts and comments including one by Yule Heibel, who wrote this weekend that Climates of trust are built on response and responsiveness. Not related to the issue, but compelling, nonetheless.)

Of course, youth has always rejected the older, and resented our positions of both authority and influence. Pushing back at old farts is a social phenomena that many of us remember from the days of Vietnam war protests (anyone remember Don’t trust anyone over 30! placards?) It’s not surprising to see such groups or even messages. I think what is disquieting is the fact that Facebook, which promises to abolish ‘hate’ groups, does not see these as such.

This isn’t surprising really, nor is it surprising that the 23 year old founder of the application, Mark Zukerberg, wouldn’t be overly concerned. In our rush to a new social network we have idolized youth; made them the pampered pets of social networking. More importantly, we have both taught and celebrated the right of free expression without promoting an awareness that the best expression is accompanied by both empathy and respect.

The younger the person the more self-absorbed and that’s natural; after all, it takes experience to become empathetic. Over time, society and our interactions within it help most (not all) of us to see beyond just our own needs, our own wants. We become friends with people outside our age group, race, class, or country. We learn that being aware of others, their needs and feelings, isn’t the same as ‘selling out’; nor is it destructive of ‘self’.

However, what I’m seeing with some of the social networking sites (just some, not all), is that rather than expose people to different viewpoints, they can reinforce barriers against the the natural processes that abrade self-absorbed behavior. When challenged in one’s day to day life to give o’er our preconceptions or biases, rather than learn to adapt and grow socially, we can rush home and twitter, blog, and Facebook with others who have exactly our same point of view. We can safely ensconce ourselves behind a buffer of like-minded folks, postponing, perhaps indefinitely, the need to challenge our “world is me me me” view.

An example: another reason I lost interest in Facebook, other than my disinterest in the distraction, had to do with the recent story about Facebook and Zukerberg being sued because another company says he stole their code and concept. The suit is still ongoing and who is to say whether it has merit or not. But one thing I noticed among the Facebook fans is that they were less interested in the merits behind the suit–the possibility that the code and idea may have been stolen–and more concerned about losing their special place and that harm could come to their ‘hero’. They were completely apathetic about whether Zukerberg stole the code or not. If the courts ruled he did, as long as they still have their ‘special place’, they would be indifferent to the finding and Zukerberg would still be their ‘hero’.

The world ‘bankrupt’ was flipped around this weekend, and used incorrectly and badly at that. The real ‘bankruptcy’ I’m seeing with a site like Facebook, and perhaps even some forms of social networking in general, is an empathetic bankruptcy–perhaps even a moral bankruptcy, if that term hasn’t been permanently corrupted because of its overuse and abuse by the religious conservatives–as sites like these become the sugar tit of upcoming generations.

But then, I am over 30, and therefore my opinion and this writing are not to be trusted.

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14 Responses to The Ugly Face of Facebook

  1. Loren says:

    Luckily most of us old farts just aren’t cool enough to even bother trying to figure out Facebook and similar sites, Shelley.

    We’re too busy getting out hiking, taking Tai Chi classes at the YMCA, or reading books to spend our time “chatting” with “class-less” mates.

    After 30 years of teaching high school I can tell you that the last thing I ever wanted in my lifetime was to be young again. Being young just ain’t cool.

  2. Noah Slater says:

    While this essay was an interesting read and with which I mostly agree – I don’t see how taking an extremely small sampling of Facebook groups really supports your hypothesis.

    I could, for example, take a list of all the groups relating to 24 (the TV show) and then conclude that I’m not interested in Facebook because most of it’s users are unhealthily obsessed with Jack Bauer.

    If I had a weight problem – and was self conscious about it – it would not take me long to find enough Facebook groups to also “support” the statement that Facebook users are all skinny, looks-obsessed people pre-occupied with weight loss and marginalisation of over-weight people.

    I think a bit of perspective is needed.

  3. Shelley says:

    Ah well, Loren, being young is something we all grow out of.


    Noah, but anecdotal observation seems to be all the rage, now.

    Perspective, yes. I think, though, there is an unhealthy obsession towards youth among some forms of social networking, primarily those that group people just because. I’ve not seen such with sites like Flickr, which is focused on photography rather than social interaction.

    The youth are a market to be exploited, and in the process, some social networks don’t wish to offend the goose that laid the golden egg. By catering to the young, I do believe they help buffer against the forces that abrade some of the more negative characteristics of youth, such a natural self-centeredness.

    How much impact this has on the upcoming generations is hard to determine. Perhaps in the end, it will have no impact at all. Or perhaps we’re staring Clockwork Orange directly in the face.

  4. jd says:

    The comparison with Flickr is to the point, Shelley. Social interaction for its own sake is empty & ready to be filled by the latest prejudice; social interaction around a subject or concern tends to avoid this trap.

  5. One of my closest friends is 18, and I’ve watched her online behavior with some interest.

    First of all, the personality and attitude that she projects online has little to do with her actual self. Instead of treating the web as an opportunity for self-expression, it’s a tool she uses to refine the role she was “assigned” in high school. She occasionally posts stupid or potentially offensive things, not because she means what she says, but because she thinks it’ll make her look cool.

    I suspect there’s a lot of that in the stuff you’ve referenced. Nihilistic poses are always cool… and when you spend so much of your time obsessing over what other people think of you, there’s something freeing about pretending to be someone who doesn’t give a shit about anyone or anything.

  6. James says:

    Shelley, did you read the response to responses of the class divisions essay?

    The trend for people in their 20s to behave more like teenagers has been noted for more than 10 years if the term adultescent is anything to go by.

  7. Pingback: Dave Kearns » Social networking as playground

  8. Facebook may be the darling of the vapid set today, (I’ve Seen your Pixels! Can we Be Friends?), but it is just another sharecropping network for those folks who think friendship can be had at the click of a mouse, and one can demonstrate their self worth by the quantity of ‘friends’.

    What makes Facebook more annoying that the other sharecroppers is that you have to join before you can play.

    Facebook is the 21st century internment camp for the significantly common. You can only play if you join, and then you can only network with the other inmates. The last time I did something sight unseen, that somebody said was ”the thing to do” ended badly.

    As for the elder abuse, screw em! I have outlived most of them, and am ontrack to outlive the rest.

  9. Mark Wahl says:

    Another difficulty I had is the assumption built into some social networking web site business models is that hosting a social network is like hosting a tupperware party for people who don’t want tupperware. One’s interactions with their friends is just a vehicle for selling ads, regardless of the appropriateness of the context.
    This can be problematic as these sites become ‘platforms’ with the attendant lock-in, as I discussed in a blog post on
    Anti-utopian social networking

  10. Pingback: Chuqui: It isn’t Facebook; It’s Life - odd time signatures -

  11. I took a whack, too: Facebook is the opposite of what I’m looking for

    I’m not gonna last two weeks at FB, Shelley.

    It feels like a very crowded terminal.

  12. SB says:

    Well great. Just great.

    I’ve spent 80% of my time getting back online trying to learn Facebook. This is for two reasons: 1) two young people I love are there, and this seems a good way to stay in consistent touch with them; and 2) the poetry group I used to be active in moved over there. My participation dropped because I had a hard time figuring out how to use it. Now I’d like to get back in.

    Can’t we just take it over?

  13. Ali says:

    Congrats – this is the post where I stopped reading your blog and deleted it from my RSS feed.

    Even 500 members in a group is small, by Facebook standards. So a couple of hundred people out of the millions on facebook joined ageist groups. Getting put out about it is silly; it’s not like younger people have a hell of a lot of power or influence: their rejection of previous generations just isn’t that important. “I hate old people groups” are sarcastic anyhow, so taking it as a “hate speech” is just playing up to the comedy of that… way to go and fully occupy the stereotype of someone totally oversensitive and unable to get it. Blogging about these tiny groups and claiming it’s the reason you can’t use Facebook is just asinine. I read a number of blogs of older people who are interested in social networking, and besides the hyper-interest in “what the kids are doing” (sad, please just live your own lives) and trying to ape it, there is for many a real lack of understanding of how they’re useful tools, not just a trend. You missed the point!

  14. Shelley says:

    Ali, actually, I think you just made mine.