Facebook and the Jeremy Kyle Generation

6 Mar

Joining the virtual community has it’s ups and downs. Choosing social networking sites has its own lovers and haters. When I first heard about the social phenomena known as Facebook, I didn’t want to know as it just didn’t interest me at all. All I ever heard was people rating it and saying how marvellous it was to talk to people online and share interests, photos, keep in touch with people and so on. There were also those who said it was a complete waste of time and would rather meet people face to face or hold a good old fashion social gathering or communicate with people on the phone. It’s better that way so you can read peoples body language, facial expressions and listen to their tone of voice. I listened to both sides of the arguments and tended to agree.

Because everyone was talking about it, good or bad, for better or worse, I decided to become a member of Facebook. That was back in August 2007. God, even just writing that date down has made me realise how long I’ve been addicted, if that word can be used to here, to the online community! It was with great trepidation that I typed in my name and created an account. After a bit of research and waiting around, waiting for something great to happen, I suppose, I added  several friends. Then, a couple of months later, I “shared” my first item, an article about new technological clocks and watches that I hoped my brother (and others) would find interesting. Then, I received my first message. Like anything unfamiliar, you allow time to get used to it. So, my only connection with Facebook was a gradual process. I had an account but I was not active  on it for months on end. It took me about two years, would you believe!? to use the account properly and really start to communicate. I really thought I was making headway! I thought I was hip, trendy and flowing with modern culture and technology. I was quite happy sharing photos, conversing with friends, commenting here and there, passing on jokes, updating my status with regular observations or thoughts.

Then, something strange happened. Facebook had gained notoriety on British TV.

  

“It was Facebook that did it!” the woman screamed. I looked up and it was a woman on the Jeremy Kyle Show. She was blaming the breakdown of her relationship with her ex-boyfriend on Facebook. “What do you mean?” asked a perturbed Jeremy Kyle. He obviously hadn’t joined the social revolution like the rest of us. The woman explained how she had found him speaking to other girls, sharing personal and private photos, making comments about her behind her back, ridiculing and poking fun of her appearance, weight, habits and behaviour. The boyfriend came out and denied all the allegations. “There’s nothing going on!” There followed a spat and it dawned on Jeremy that the manner in which the estranged couple spoke was no different to how the comments were made on Facebook. The ex-boyfriend thanked Jeremy for his understanding and said that that was exactly what he was trying to explain to his girlfriend. “But it was all written down!” she sobbed. There was some more discussion and a reconciliation of some sorts. Now, I’m not a fan of Jeremy Kyle, but when you are flicking channels, sometimes you can’t but help getting drawn in. With many of Jeremy Kyles’ participants’, we know that they are of a certain class, status and social background (I’m not a social snob by the way) But the point being that over a period of time, it was becoming evident to Jeremy and us, the viewers at home and in the audience, that Facebook appeared to be the bane of peoples lives. There were arguments, petty squabbles, bullying, stories of stalking, accusations thrown, physical brawls and other horrendous issues were making themselves present. People on the show appeared to have their family, relationships and friendships lives broken, dictated to and destroyed all because of items or comments made or misconstrued  on Facebook. They would never admit to the fact that in most cases, the majority of the issues were lying dormant or unresolved for years long before Facebook came along. A lot of the stories came about because comments, articles or items posted were misconstrued or insensitively placed  and ridiculed. Sometimes there was deliberation behind what they did, or malicious or vindictive intent. Other times, it was a mistake or a spur of the moment decision made in haste. Overall after a number of years, after a number of debates, altercations, confrontations over the use of Facebook,  Jeremy finally became exasperated by it all and said he was glad he did not bother with Facebook and preferred to talk to people face to face, to talk through any feelings or misunderstandings and was glad to have a close network of friends and a very loving family, people whom he could trust and know would support him.

I agreed with his sentiments as I was beginning to feel jaded by what people were sharing on the site. What started off as light conversation, as a way and means to keep in touch, would soon become a minefield of social etiquette. Do I “like” a comment or not? If I didn’t, did that mean the person wouldn’t speak to me again? Do I comment on what someone has written ort not? If I wrote something humorous, would that make me insensitive? And the questions that worked there way around my thoughts just wore on and on. Eventually, I just became a “skim reader” of status updates and only commented where I saw fit or felt I needed to share something of value, importance or interest. For me, Facebook wasn’t just about sharing things like a cat photo or mundane items like what you’ve had for breakfast, or going out. It was about life events, telling or informing me that my friends, people who I knew, were doing something exciting, inspiring or magnificent even. Tell me something that I don’t know. And the poems or “inspirational” pieces that have been liked and shared thousand of times irritate and annoy me. They are like the junk mail through the letterbox or the spam in the emails. The majority of items shared, we’ve all done it. It’s commonplace the world over.

Anyway. Bear with me, my rant is nearly over! Several months ago, I had joined a community page called The Bearwood Page, with the emphasis being “For people who live, work and use the many facilities in Bearwood, to share ideas for and celebrate Bearwood”. I enjoyed the community spirit and at last, I thought could join an open forum which was passionate, positive about the locality and was obliging to accept posts which celebrated creativity, diversity and ways to improve my community and help others. I read status updates, posted my own items such as poems or photos of my cakes, provided information about businesses, tried to be helpful and thoughtful in my queries and criticisms.

Then, I noted that one or two individuals would provide information or answer queries in a relatively acceptable manner. Sometimes it was useful, other times it was deemed to be “harmless banter”. I took it at face value at first because I didn’t know the people and I didn’t wish to offend, be hurtful in my comments or say something that might be misconstrued. I accepted comments for being there or just skimmed through them. Then, I noticed that if someone posted a query or had something positive to say, there was always someone who would disagree. I understood and appreciated that. But things began to change when I asked the group just to “like or dislike” things about Bearwood. It started off with good intentions, a great exercise I thought to stop the negative attitudes on the page. But it soon lost direction when people started to comment on other things. “AAAAARRRGGGHH!” I shouted at some point. “I just want a LIST! you know, like a SHOPPING LIST!!? Is that so difficult!??” but people were quick to respond and took the thread onto a completely different tangent. So, I kept calm, and moved on…

Three days ago, a random person, new to the area, posted a query on The Bearwood Page. It was just a general question about what groups could she join without it being affiliated to the local Council. She received three relatively useful comment or signposts. Leave it at that, I thought. But then, someone posted a comment and didn’t necessarily mean anything nasty by it. However, this comment was picked up and scrutinised by others; within hours, in fact over a period of two days, the thread was lost to almost 400 comments which were critical, negative, sarcastic, rude, offensive, derogatory, childish, worthless, subjective and had no bearing whatsoever to the original question. Now, the people using the page, I thought or assume, tend to be white, middle -class, educated, professional people. I would think or hoped they would conduct themselves better than that. I mean, if they were at work, would they be so open in their views or opinions? I think not. Hiding behind the façade of a latop at home provides a safe haven to say what they like.  They are probably the same people who would mock, scoff or laugh at the people on Jeremy Kyle shows or turn their noses up at what is presented on daytime TV with disdain and disgust. Like Jeremy Kyle, Moderators debated whether or not they should intervene. After all, the wife of one of the Moderators partners was being attacked on Facebook and he, in turn, would naturally want to protect and support her. The other Moderator thought it best to leave the online community forum as it is. Let them make fools of themselves, he said. Now, if responses or comment to a question or status update has no bearing on the post, why bother to comment? They used to say if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. People you don’t know take liberties and there are certain things that we should be wary or mindful of…Facebook is the Jeremy Kyle Show of the social networks. Forums, Groups and Pages  start off with good intentions but soon degenerates into a farcical, sometimes cruel event without any backup, support or identity. Some issues are resolved easily, others leave a bitter taste in the mouth or leave one angry. This latest incident has made me wonder, is it all worth it? The amount of people who are taken in by the merits of Facebook, have or having experienced anguish, had their health affected, a drain on their mental well being  and physical hurt has been astounding over the years and more recently in this Bearwood Page debacle.

On some websites, like Youtube, comments can start off relating to the music video and can turn into a spiteful, vicious and personal attack on others. In some instances, comments can be disabled so as not to offend. 

They say that about 90% of communication is nonverbal. Can we keep it that way or are we as a society, social beings, losing that connection, losing the power to understand nuances, subtexts, humour, reading facial expressions, sensing something is good/bad, as we seem to rely so heavily now on social networks and online forums and discussions. We appear to becoming so insular, I am reminded of the characters on the ship in Wall-e, an animated CGI film, seated comfortably and not taking notice of the changes taking place around us. At the same time, I also think that no matter what class, social background we come from, education we receive or intellect we perceive we have,  we might not show or demonstrate it physically on television like those individuals on the Jeremy Kyle Show, but we appear to be doing that same thing  in the written word and through the use of online forums. With 1 billion users, is Facebook really a social phenomena or are we taken in by a gimmick, manipulated like those on reality TV? What do we gain by using Facebook on a regular basis?

The Power of the Written Word. Be careful how you use it!

The Learned Kat

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