The 10-year-old website Facebook began as a networking site for students at Harvard University, before expanding to include the Ivy League and Stanford University. Students from other colleges and universities were gradually admitted, followed by high school students. Eventually, Facebook opened its virtual doors to everyone over the age of 13, and its growth from than point on has been astronomical.
Considered to be the fifth-most successful start-up company of all time, and valued at around $134 billion, Facebook is undeniably a success story. But the enormous and widespread popularity of the social network has also come with some negative elements.
For one, Facebook has inspired obsessive use among some of its members. This obsessive use, in which the hours spent on the site come to dominate a person’s life, is known by some as Facebook Addiction Disorder (FAD). Around 350 million people worldwide suffer from the condition, according to the official website for FAD. To put that number in perspective, consider that the population of the Unites States is approximately 313 million people.
Many consider the obsessive social networking that characterizes FAD to be an addiction. It will take years of peer-reviewed studies before the condition can achieve official recognition by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders. For the time being, overuse of Facebook or other Internet networks is more commonly referred to as problematic Internet use, or compulsive Internet use.
One study of Facebook overuse from Norway identified several trends among those with problematic behavior. They found that women are more likely to use Facebook obsessively, possibly because of the social nature of the website. They also found that anxiety and social insecurity often translate to more hours spent on Facebook, most likely because these individuals feel more comfortable socializing through the online format than they do socializing in person.
The Dark Side Of Internet Socializing
Facebook is social by nature, and over its 10-year lifespan the site has added many more ways to share details about your life and to connect with people. But the openness of the site means the socialization that happens is not always positive in nature.
Sometimes the negative interactions on Facebook are relatively minor: friends who over-share through status messages or photos, awkward break-ups or conversations between friends, or other unsavory posts that result from the open-forum nature of the social network. However, sometimes these negative interactions range from the unpleasant and painful to the criminal.
Bullying is one nasty fact of life on Facebook. Harassing messages on the site have been blamed for suicides, and some have resulted in criminal proceedings. A number of explicit photos found on pornographic websites are believed to have been taken from Facebook. In 2011, a ring of prisoners used Facebook to harass victims and threaten witnesses. Stalking is also a reality on Facebook, and can lead to serious real-world consequences.
The term “Facebook stalking” has often been used in a light-hearted way to mean looking through someone’s photo albums, status posts or other information without interacting with them. But stalking on the social network can be truly threatening, and there have been several instances in the last few years of people—mostly young women—being psychologically scarred or murdered by a Facebook stalker.
Two men were imprisoned in 2010, one for stalking and sexually harassing a teenage girl, and another for murdering a teenage girl after stalking her via a fake account in which he posed as a fellow teenager. In late 2011, a woman was murdered by an ex-boyfriend who stalked her via a fake Facebook account. In 2012, a young model in Nigeria was murdered by a man who had been stalking her for months on the site. There have been many other cases reported of lewd messaging and sexual abuse via Facebook.
Taking care and being aware of the information that you share via Facebook should be an important part of online social networking. Apps such as Foursquare, which let your contacts know your exact location, can be used by stalkers. Posting a real-time location to your status through a mobile device can also be potentially risky. Some users may not be aware of their privacy settings, and who can and cannot see the information they post. In general, the best way to protect your privacy on Facebook, and elsewhere online, is to use your best judgment to limit the information you post rather than relying on built-in privacy settings.