Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Mark Zuckerberg and his Breeding Ground for Bullies

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg announced at a Q&A in California that he would finally be adding a 'Dislike' button to Facebook, alongside the popular 'Like' functionality. Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg renounced the last few shreds of dignity that Facebook had left.

Facebook has become a flurry of vile & violent videos, baby photos and, my personal favourite, amusing Facebook arguments amongst "friends". Usage of Facebook has been steadily declining for a while. Whilst it remains the most popular social networking platform in the world, a study by Forbes suggests that the way in which people use Facebook has changed dramatically towards more of a 'passive browse'. Facebook was the only network that people used less in 2014 with platforms like Instagram seeing an uplift of 47% and Linked In seeing an uplift of 38% usage.

When I was 16 Facebook was the only social networking platform anybody used. Bebo had long died a death and MySpace was slowly being killed off and rebirthed as a music sharing platform. Facebook was where we organised events such as "S14Ns W1cK3d BiRtHd4y P4RtY 2k06" and "Sian is turning 18 omg sooooo old lol lmao come celebrayt with me". It was where we shared photos and sent one another presents for our virtual cats. It was, for the most part, a positive and friendly website. We didn't understand profile security back then but it almost didn't matter as we weren't 'Checking In' or linking our debit cards to app services. It felt safe.

A professor called Andrea Forte from Drexel University gave some frankly hilarious commentary to the BBC yesterday. Forte, an expert in social and participatory media from Philadelphia, claimed that:

"Facebook users may use a dislike button to express some negative emotions (like frustration with ads popping up in their feeds) but I doubt it will cause them to start wantonly disliking pictures of their friends' babies, dogs, cats and cooking experiments. I suspect it will mainly be used to express mild disapproval, or to express solidarity when someone posts about a negative event like a death or a loss."

Oh Andrea. I think you're showing your age. The Facebook dislike button will, without a smidge of a doubt, be the catalyst for a surge in negativity on Facebook. It will cause a cataclysmic shift in the behaviour of Facebook users. Zuckerberg is an astute businessman and his intentions are almost certainly that an increase in controversy will bring some users flooding back to Facebook to stand by and watch the chaos. In Britain, the land of the passive aggressive Facebook post, a post such as "Little Timmy just used the potty for the first time!!!!" will no longer be met with a roll of the eyes and be allowed to flow down the feed. What Zuckerberg is doing, as he well knows, is giving people a voice without the need to say a thing.

I worry constantly about my little brother on social media. He is 13 and he is smart, but he hasn't been raised in a way which would encourage him to talk openly with us about his social networking use and this is absolutely a typical situation amongst children his age. He has blocked me and my other siblings on Twitter and on Facebook. He refuses to accept my SnapChat friend request. He is, of course, well within his right to do so and I trust, after a few 'interesting' mishaps, that he will use his better judgement to establish what is appropriate for a popular media platform without needing his family to check on him. What if every parent takes this stance though?

The story of Izzy Dix has been all over the news recently. Izzy was a teenager from Devon who took her life at 14 after being cyber-bullied for a period of time. She showed no outward signs of her plans but her life behind closed doors was destroyed by vicious kids on Facebook and (I refuse to link to this site but it is essentially an anonymous question and answer forum). The saddest thing about the death of Izzy Dix is that it was completely avoidable; she could have been saved. Children are awful, and I mean awful. I was never seriously bullied in secondary school but it was definitely the most insecure and horrible few years of my life. The things that children say and do to one another are horrid and this is just multiplied exponentially when children are allowed unprecedented access to social media platforms with no coaching or active support at home. has been linked to 16 suicides amongst youths. Is Facebook about to join the ranks of unmediated platforms that allow passive commentary on other peoples lives for the ad-revenue?

I do not believe that it is over-zealous to consider the worst possible scenario following the introduction of the Facebook Dislike Button. If you are being bullied, or you know somebody who is, please reach out to somebody and remember that you don't need to be a member of a platform that makes you feel negative about yourself. Help is at hand:

Until next time...

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