Re-examining Facebook

First and foremost, I have to admit that I’m on Facebook. My account is there to try and help promote this blog and my BlogTalkRadio efforts. Perhaps my participation is less than it could be, but then again, you can only devote so much time to all the different social media options that are available to you.

Facebook is often referred to as an online community, but I am beginning to have serious reservations about what that really means. A community is something that people belong to that promotes and supports one’s own circumstances and reinforces other members’ beliefs and principles as well. More important than that, however, community is strongest when its members are relatively local in proximity to one another.

Facebook really does very little of that. It forms collections of individuals into “groups”, but those groups are too widely dispersed to be anything other than a shouting box. In particular, I’m concerned about young people who have tethered themselves to a group that does nothing to support a local community’s collective concerns. Participation in these groups instead may serve to undermine the very fiber of a local community in their generic dismissal of anything that doesn’t support the focus of the group. Put another way, what possible contribution does a Delaware teen’s opinion provide to a Texas teen’s sense of belonging to their own, local community? What might be regarded as cute and accepting conversation within a Facebook group may not necessarily translate to the real concerns and beliefs of a local community or, even closer to home, a family.

Teens are bombarded with voices of dissent to anything family-oriented, much less community-oriented. That’s not to say they’re aren’t groups that DO support local concerns. It’s just that the rebellious nature of teenagers are not often going to gravitate to a group that might be supportive of a parent’s ideas and concerns. Instead of being mentored by those who want a teen to grow up and become a contributing member of a community/family, the exact opposite may happen.

A recent case that bears examining is that of Lindsey Stone, the Massachusetts woman who posted a picture of herself on Facebook flipping the bird and pretending to shout next to a sign at the Arlington National Cemetery in October.

After a huge furor ensued online, the woman and her picture-taking friend took to Facebook in an attempt to tamp down the anger and outrage that the picture sparked on Facebook and elsewhere:

We sincerely apologize for all the pain we have caused by posting the picture we took in Washington DC on Facebook. While posted on a public forum, the picture was intended only for our own amusement. We never meant any disrespect to any of the people nationwide who have served this country and defended our freedom so valiantly. It was meant merely as a visual pun, intending to depict the exact opposite of what the sign said, and had absolutely nothing to do with the location it was taken or the people represented there. We never meant to cause any harm or disrespect to anyone, particularly our men and women in uniform. We realize it was in incredibly poor taste, and are deeply sorry for the offense we have caused.

We would also like to apologize to LIFE, Inc. It is an amazing organization that provides invaluable services to adults with learning and developmental disabilities. We are beyond remorseful that our actions have caused them such undue public scrutiny. The disrespect implied by our picture has nothing at all to do with LIFE’s mission statement or values. We regret having caused any suffering to the staff members, residents, families and friends.

Again, we very sincerely apologize to everyone who took offense to the photo. We realize that it was an ignorant and distasteful thing for us to do, but we truly meant no harm. We are deeply sorry.

This statement was in response to a statement made earlier in the day by their employer, Living Independently Forever, Inc., or LIFE, a Hyannis-based non-profit organization, who issued a statement on their Facebook page following complaints about the photo:

On Nov. 19 at approximately 6 p.m., we became aware that one of our employees had posted an offensive, inappropriate photograph on her personal Facebook page. The photo was taken at a national historic site in October by a fellow employee during a trip to Washington, D.C. attended by 40 residents and eight staff. The photo has since been removed from Facebook, and both employees have been placed on unpaid leave pending the results of an internal investigation.

Lindsey and her friend’s mea culpa may have come a bit too late, however, and the company replaced the above statement with another statement the following day:

We wish to announce that the two employees recently involved in the Arlington Cemetery incident are no longer employees of LIFE. Again, we deeply regret any disrespect to members of the military and their families. The incident and publicity has been very upsetting to the learning disabled population we serve. To protect our residents, any comments, however well-intentioned, will be deleted. We appreciate your concern and understanding as we focus on the care of our community.

While this certainly seems to be a rather unique case, I wonder how many times similar occurrences have taken place that have offended other, less prominent communities or even families? What prompts this type of behavior if nothing other than the group one is trying to appeal to? The two women in the example above certainly learned a valuable lesson, but how many others have not?

Our culture is under assault and I’m beginning to question the value of Facebook and other social media sites that do nothing to reinforce the true sense of community. Can we really expect to find a way to restore our liberties and sense of self-reliance when we can offer no appealing alternative to Facebook? I’m not saying Facebook should be banned, I’m just saying that we better understand its impact before we can ever hope to re-establish control of our communities and those who attempt to govern and/or control us.