Facebook – an act of the devil?

Archbishop fan group

Will they ever get it? I don’t think so. Since social networking sites like Facebook have become so immensely popular, critics from all corners of society have renewed their claims that the Internet is isolating, alienating, and inevitably leading to the end of healthy community life. The latest in line this morning: Archbishop Vincent Nichols (see BBC article)

His criticism is so old it’s almost too boring to repeat. Facebook leads young people to seek transient relationships, as many of them as possible to boast about them. And when these loose relationships collapse, young people go and commit suicide, according to the Archbishop. Moreover, they forget how to interact face-to-face, loosing their ability to interpret a person’s mood and and body language. In other words, once again the end of society.

Not every friend is a friend

I do not know if the Archbishop has ever signed on to Facebook or if he was thoroughly briefed about it before making his claims. I find it unlikely, as he contradicts both the experience of most Facebook users and the current status quo in terms of academic research on this topic.

I’ve been doing a bit of work on online communication myself over recent weeks. During the interviews I conducted, all interviewees made it very clear that they use Facebook to talk to a few close friends on a regular basis. The rest of the people on their friend list are those who they just met once or were never really that close to. It’s like collecting business cards. You got the person’s details and if at any point in the future you need to contact her, you can.

Critics like the Archbishop should realize that not every contact that’s labeled a “friend” on Facebook is a true friend. In fact, many people I talked to said they started a number of separate friend lists to distinguish between those who they care about and those they aren’t that close to.

Integrate, mix, replace

Many academic an journalistic articles, as well as my interviewees, also suggest that online interaction is very closely integrated with offline interaction. If we only looked at Facebook communication, our social life would indeed be pretty sad. But Facebook is there to supplement everything else that went on before, to mix with it, or in some cases to replace it – but only partially.

Facebook and other social networking sites may even enable relationships to be maintained that were previously lost. Those students I spoke to (in addition to my own experience) all came to the UK from abroad. They say that through social media they find it much easier and cheaper to stay in touch with their friends from high school or their families back home.

Technology, the culprit

Finally, critics like the Archbishop make it sound like social networking sites dropped to the face of the earth as the source of all evil. I see that they make for an excellent culprit. But if we want to lament the decline of community life (which we have some reason to do), we should look somewhere else first. Facebook et al. only reflect and perhaps emphasize social trends that have been ongoing for quite some time, such as individualization, globalization, social exclusion, and some others.

While I wrote this, I was wondering about the Archbishops motifs to voice his criticism about social networking sites. Does he think that those who no longer go to church are now surfing the web instead? Does he find it hard to compete for the attention of young people? Does he hope they would come to his church if Facebook was outlawed?

As a side note, I find it worth mentioning that Mr. Nichols has a Facebook fan group with 222 members. Not sure whether he knows about this or how he feels about it.

6 responses to “Facebook – an act of the devil?

  1. He’s talking bollocks.

    If only those online communities had been available to my generation ofchildren. Life pre internet was pretty dull and isolating for many children who were just a bit different- but it was especially miserable for many of those who ‘d had the misfortune to be incarcerated in orphanages run by the Roman Catholic Church.

    With the internet they might have got the support and help they needed.

    They certainly didn’t get it from the archbishop’s wonderful traditional communities.

  2. Great article. I gonna link tit.


  3. He can’t hold on to that position for too many more years. It gets harder to live without online social tools every day.

    Anyway, I think Facebook is pretty neat.

  4. debbiedavidson09

    Well, it isn’t just young people who use Facebook. Quite a few grandmas are out there

  5. Confession: I have just been blogging and e-mailing for the last 3 hours.

    Just say 4 Twitters, 2 Stumbleupons and a facebook for your sins my daughter…..

  6. What would the archbishop have to say about last Christmas when the church was so over crowded that we had to watch mass televised while sitting in the church auditorium?

    I’m sure he would change his mind about facebook if he realized it’s value and really looked into all the positive aspects that facebook has brought to the internet.

    Not only can I chat with my child while she is out of the country, I can also reunite with old friends ( which lead to real in person reunions), family and even people who I had only acquaintanceships are people I talk to everyday.

    Facebook is about making connections.
    The church needs to take a look with an open positive frame of mind.

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