Saturday, 17 July 2010

Has someone missed the point of Facebook?

Government documents, political articles, final dissertations, legal arguments... even blog posts are sort of thing that I expect people to take seriously. But Facebook groups? You must be joking. Oh wait, you probably are!

Back in the days when I was still allowed to ‘become a fan’ of things (much more non-committal than ‘liking’ them, I find) I was a self-proclaimed fan of serial killers, eugenics, coco pops, Beverly Hills 90210 and ‘if the world ends in 2012 I won’t have to pay back my student loan’. Does this make me psychotic, schizophrenic or a cereal-eater? No. It means that I understand that sites such as Facebook are not to be taken seriously.

Those of you well versed in the art of social networking will also recognise the tongue-in-cheek aspect of Facebook compared to rivals such as Twitter, or even Myspace in its hayday. Facebook is private; members can handpick who they want as contacts and edit that list with a couple of clicks. In this familiar and enclosed environment, why shouldn’t we be allowed to make jokes with our ‘friends’, regardless of how distasteful others may find our sense of humour?

Cameron’s idea that he could scream out into Facebook oblivion about where spending cuts should lie is nothing short of hilarious, prompting the most popular response from this newly-engaged public to be along the lines of ‘if you can’t work it out yourself then get out of government’. I wonder if Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg is a closet communist and it was all a set-up.

As if this hadn’t made me sceptical enough of Cameron’s so-called ‘down with the kids’ attitude to social networking, along came the whole ‘R.I.P. Raoul Moat You Legend’ Facebook group affair, which with a little help from his mates at the Daily Mail, our Prime Minister managed to blow so out of proportion to that the poor woman who set it up has had her face plastered all over the press for her ‘sick joke’. I suppose it doesn’t help that she’s a single mother, either.

I recognise the insensitivity the group displayed to the bereaved families of Moat’s victims. I also accept that this group was not only politically incorrect but also downright offensive. However, the idea that a government should be able to remove anything from the public domain based on that set of criteria is not only a travesty to the ideal of free speech but also a prelude to an era of censorship which will see many comedians, writers, musicians and journalists unemployed in the near future.

I rarely update my Facebook status with anything that is not drowned in layers of irony, sarcasm and obscure and useless references that few people pick up on. As far as I’m concerned this is all part of the point. If I were only allowed to write the sort of things that would be considered acceptable by politicians and right-wing media outlets I would delete my account in an instant. And surely that’s not what David Cameron wants.