18 September 2007

Facebook suicide: the end of a virtual life

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The Times, a UK newspaper, has a very long article on why some users of the very popular online networking site Facebook end up killing their online profile.

I may want to add that the article focuses very strongly on a highly personal use of Facebook, and doesn’t touch upon the professional social networking system is now increasingly facilitating. I also have a Facebook profile, which I use for professional reasons only, but I have to admit that I am still not entirely convinced of its value.

“Started in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, a student at Harvard, Facebook is now the 13th most used search engine in the world, with two million members in the UK and 150,000 new people signing up every day. Eclipsing Friends Reunited in popularity and media buzz, barely a day goes by without a story in the press about the site (see panel facing page), from privacy concerns over its plans to make profiles accessible through search engines such as Google, to reports that more than 70 per cent of British businesses have moved to restrict or ban Facebook, including British Gas and Lloyds TSB.

Considered more popular with slightly older and more middle-class users than other networking sites, such as MySpace and Bebo, it has recently made the transition from niche concept to something with mass appeal. So why are people deciding to put a virtual noose around their online necks?”

In the article The Times provides a number of answers:

It’s easy to be misinterpreted: There are a limited set of cues available on sites like this. You don’t get the subtleties of voice tone, facial expressions or body language you usually have when interacting with others and that can make interpreting the meaning of messages difficult. You can write something flippantly, which others take seriously, or come across as aggressive when that’s not your intention at all.

Online profiles are not very significant: Building a Facebook profile is one way that individuals can identify themselves, making them feel important and accepted. But this can lead to disappointment once people realise how insignificant their online existence really is. Not only are online friends not necessarily real friends, they can turn out to be people you don’t wish to know at all.

“I’d rather spend time with people in person”: Generally people have just a handful of really close friends. If you feel the need to get in touch with someone from the past, you have to ask yourself why you do. It could be indicative of a problem or unhappiness in your current self and, therefore, a desire to reconnect with a younger one. But once people realise this is not a solution, they’ll leave and try to solve them another way.

Getting a real life: Other users say they’ve ended their lives in the virtual world for far more prosaic reasons – so that they can resume life in the real one.

When things get personal, you’re vulnerable: The fact that you can’t see or hear other people makes it easier to reveal yourself in a way you might not be comfortable with.

The article ends with a beginner’s guide to using Facebook.

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