A recent article in the observer posed the question: Is it time to leave facebook? This debate touched on privacy, the enforced introduction of facebook timeline and suggested that the minutia of everyday life that we see through facebook is becoming boring. Frequent news stories of cyber bullying, identity theft through social networking and young people putting themselves at risk through their online activities make for depressing reading. So are we suffering from facebook fatigue and is it time to leave?
I spoke to twenty 15-26 year olds about their day-to-day usage of social networking. All but one used facebook on a daily basis and some of them had in excess of 1000 friends. These young people suggested that online friendships were, at times, difficult to maintain.
Online arguments were a key problem and often occurred as a result of statuses posted about an individual. While none of the young people I spoke to talked about their experiences in terms of bullying, they were nevertheless often upset by arguments of this type. Some went on to say that online arguments were frequently blown out of proportion and took much longer to be resolved as a result of the number of people who were able to see these statuses and comments. Several young people suggested that in incidents like this people were ‘hiding behind keyboards’ posting comments on facebook that they wouldn’t verbalise.
Most of the young people I spoke to admitted that they had friends on facebook that they didn’t know and there were different reasons for this. Some had added boys or girls ‘because they were hot’. While others added extra people to get more ‘likes’ on their statuses and photographs. But most were much more savvy about their use of social networking than young people are often given credit for. Some talked about moderating what they posted to facebook, realising that they were putting themselves at risk by talking about where they were going or what they were doing. Others stated that they would immediately delete anyone from their friends list who asked them for personal details or photographs.
For the young people I spoke to, leaving facebook was never an option because their social lives, friendships and connections were so bound up with their online activities. But several young people, who were in the process of leaving school told me they would set up new facebook accounts once they were at college . Essentially, they recognised that the sheer volume of traffic on their facebook accounts was getting out of hand. I initially thought, why not just delete surplus friends?
Talking to these young people made me question my own use of facebook. Of my facebook friends, approximately 70% are people that I’ve accumulated through various jobs, or people from school, college or university who have found me in the virtual world. Some of these are people that I haven’t seen for twenty years, others I know nothing about other than what they choose to post to facebook, most I am unlikely to see on a face to face basis ever again. Yet still, I can’t bring myself to delete them. I don’t think it’s time to leave, but I do feel a little facebook fatigued, so maybe it’s time to set up a new account.
Sarah Smith is a postgraduate researcher in the Department of Geography.