Thursday, August 13

The many facets of Facebook

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BY now everyone knows almost everything about Facebook; if they’re not already on it themselves. As today is a small landmark for me, it’s my 100th article as my first column appeared on July 7, 2018, two years ago, I’d like to write about my favourite subject, Facebook. It’s not all good news but what is these days?

To understand the early days and the beginnings of this now pervasive phenomenon called Facebook, I’d suggest you watch one of the best movies ever made – David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’ released in 2010, which won three Oscars mainly for screenplay and writing. It is a down to earth and truthful retelling of how a Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg started with building a website called Facemash in 2003 and within a few short years had managed to connect the world as was his original personal vision.

First the statistics: by the end of the first quarter of this year 2020, Facebook has 2.6 billion monthly active users making it the dominant social media network in the world today. It represents 28.5 per cent of the entire world’s population of 7.796 billion; of which Asia has the largest block or segment of 37.4 per cent. In Malaysia alone, out of the population of 32.3 million of whom 26.3 million have internet access, a total of 25.5 million users have Facebook – an almost incredible 96.9 per cent of the entire cyber-population of the nation! Only 3.1 per cent are not on Facebook. This has to be one of the world’s highest, if not the highest penetration. Twitter and Instagram can only dream about a small percentage of these figures.

While Facebook has been a boon and has achieved its founder’s initial vision of connecting people, there is an ugly side to it as well. But first let’s look at the positive features and what it has done for you and I – the many benefits we have reaped and the multi-faceted uses we have made from joining this global community of socially interconnected people of all creeds, backgrounds, sexual orientation, political diversity, and social standing.

I was an early bird and with that benefit had also managed to set up a handful of Facebook groups; one to connect my extended Ong family, another for my fellow classmates of alumni St Thomas’s 1967/69, yet another for my former work colleagues in the Inchcape and Sebor group of companies, and lastly one as a public forum for friends and supporters to air their views as I had discovered that my own personal Facebook account had far too many diverse postings and comments from friends and family and had encroached into my private space!

Facebook had also made it compulsory that once any personal account reaches the magic figure of 5,000 friends, the member has to go public and become a ‘Public Figure’ to continue. However, this limit doesn’t affect any public page or forum or group, so I had to simply branch out – but I was still maintaining control over the entire group to ensure legitimacy and integrity. I’ve had many offers to be co-administrators but had to decline.

For me personally, the best use that Facebook had for me was to reconnect with family members throughout the world both known and previously unknown to me; this was much aided by the Ong family tree chronicler Sean Collum, who is based in Sydney. He has operated a more extensive network called Extended Ong Family, whereas I had set up the Sarawak Ong Clan Association in 2013. We have both reconnected with a great number of family members from all over the world.

Similarly, with the groups I manage for former classmates and ex-work colleagues we have been able to come together and indeed physically have met up on various occasions for reunions and regular dinner parties.

There are as many groups and themed forums to join on Facebook as you can well imagine – no matter what your personal interest, hobby, craft, past-time, sport, profession, sexual orientation, political, or social leanings – there will be many groups and forums to either join or just scroll through. You need not even make your presence felt as you can do it anonymously as many groups are set to ‘Public’ and can be viewed freely at will. Some are members-only, but that again you can come and go as you please, unless you get yourself blocked or removed by an administrator for defying the rules.

The other benefit I get from my Facebook account is the immense flow of information that I can get – from my subscribed news portals from The New York Times to the BBC, Channel News Asia, to the more niche publications like the Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and newsletters like BrainPickings and Snopes. I can also search for any news bulletin or special reports by simply typing into the search machine. The world at one’s fingertips, courtesy of Facebook.

Then there is the dark and ugly side.

Firstly, let me tackle what I call the ‘Hate Brigade’.

In recent days, I have had feedback from a couple of valued friends who informed me of their disenchantment with social media (including WhatsApp groups) and Facebook in particular.

One was rather upset that his good intentions, which he had posted on Facebook about the efficient treatment he had experienced at a government agency was met with mostly positive and supportive comments but there were the odd one or two disgruntled comments from people who had expressed their personal brickbats towards same said agency. It’s a fact of life that there will always be people who will disagree with whatever good (or bad) comments that you make about anything under the sun. It’s best not to get personally affected by such negativity.

Another friend was deeply hurt and upset that despite the many obvious and universally accepted fact that what a certain politician(s) and government of a neighbouring country had done towards the prosperity and advancement of the citizens of said country, there has always been a small minority group of this ‘Hate Brigade’ who had ceaselessly being sending out vitriolic messages and comments on social media, including Facebook, running down and accusing these same stewards of said country of all sorts of nonsensical wrongdoings, which were so obviously and apparently false and unproven!

All these accusations have been rebutted many times before with solid facts and counter evidence, but has not made a dent on these haters, as the bombardment of untruths has continued. Such motives are obviously to embarrass the government and eventually to overthrow it.

Probably the ugliest side of Facebook has been the personal attacks and the slanders made on some public and private personalities, who have disenchanted the commentator. These are mainly politically inclined, but has also been made on anyone who had been made the target of personal vendettas whether founded or not by these misbegotten attackers. For the most part Facebook administrators have been able to control such vitriol being spilled and have managed to either censor, block or remove such posts and posters; but still the odd one or two escapes through the maze. I would also include fake and false news into this category.

However, if one is to balance the overall pros and the cons of Facebook, one could still rate it a pretty reasonable success at what its primary mission was: to connect people and to connect the world – at that it has been most successful. We now have to discipline it as well as to ensure that we are not overly dependent on it – after all, it’s still only a social network. We are all humans and we will all continue to connect with each other on a very personal level most of the time.

Comments can reach the writer via [email protected]