When I bring to discussion the topic of grumpy old women, while alluding to the monotonous television show aptly taking the name of this subject, many knocked-about names arise out of the open, fetid crypt filled with cackling old bats: Anne Widdecombe, Germaine Greer (shudders run up the spine) and among other darling feminine institutions, Janet Street-Porter.
It is, unfortunately, the latter who has cast an indelible wicked step mother shadow over the topic I wish to speak of here. As many understand it, Janet Street-Porter is quite the envy of the modern world woman in the fact that she will almost never flinch when it comes to self-expression – and man alive does this old girl have some remarkable expressions living in the tower blocks on the tip of her south London tongue.
On the topic I bring into play now – the social role of Facebook, our favourite social network – the eloquent media step mother is quite the agitator; this I deduced from an article I read ‘online’ that has Street-Porter pitting herself against the “toxic addiction” ( http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1261037/Janet-Street-Porter-I-believe-Facebook-toxic-addiction.html ) that is the indomitable Facebook. The naive article in question is perhaps one of the biggest oversights in relation to this recurring theme of ‘the risks of the freedom of the internet’ I have yet seen.
Lining the edges of her rigid tablet for society this time is the borderline message that reads: BEWARE ALL WHO ENTER. TREAD CAREFULLY LEST YOUR MIND MUTATE INTO THE NETWORK GIMP. From the starting line the step mother proudly embellishes her argument with the diametric war cry “Life’s too short to log on to Facebook!” I see what you did there; clever. No sooner has she reminded readers of her disdain for this ‘voracious networking monopoly’ – denouncing it as “a pointless waste of time” – than she tears down the moral white line with a chunky highlighter of the colour gloom.
For our step mother the colour gloom used here to excess represents the apparent dystopian entrapment of Facebook. The rump of her petty preaching draws on various examples of the sinister swirl of online success, including the alienation of young people – now there’s a party line we’re all familiar with. Surprising it isn’t that this reticent plea for greater child protection shares a similar wavelength with David Cameron’s choppy Broken Britain rendition of populism. It exhibits similar traits too, in that it’s just another fresh load of Tory-esque crème de la crap for technophobes to be titillated by.
When it comes to the crunch, our step mother’s pitched rump of an argument is nothing more than a disappointing half-carcass of a whinge. The embitterment reels with imbalance as she tries to justify her solemn conniving against fantastic online phenomena like Facebook by using flaccid examples like the insidious deception of paedophiles that prowl Facebook’s domain for “impressionable teenage girls”. Another one that comes a cropper is the case of online kiddy lynch mobs hell-bent on ostracising the weaker ones. You do paint a pleasant picture, you grumpy old woman.
After brief commitment to several case studies that leave much to be desired she consigns Facebook’s ‘professional reviewers’ to the flames of her rampaging firewall, yielding no support for the concept of user-based self-regulation, which is the predominant means of bringing profile abuse on the site to light. She does, to her credit, slip in a mention of an Ofcom report that reveals Facebook is the sixth most popular social network for six to eleven year-olds. I did a bit of trawling, but couldn’t locate this specific statistic myself.
Facebook is a goldmine of personal information and an intriguing example of societies going online, connecting globally. For all their statistical worth, Ofcom’s reports into the inner-dimensions of Facebook aren’t all that important – part of me believes our step mother feels the same way. In reality anybody can join in the online social sprawl; I’m not kidding you when I admit my dog has joined Facebook, albeit by proxy.
There will be all sorts of quirky examples of ‘network-evolution’. I’m sure someone’s probably signed their baby up to it at some point and I know firsthand that there is no particular policy for Facebook profiles that survive their user’s passing. The Facebook profile of a lost loved one can become an online memorial to them, accessible to their family and closest friends, who may, in an abstract sense, feel a posthumous relationship with that person. Now there’s an interesting study for Ofcom to approach.
Nevertheless, still erect in this “tsunami of trivia” is our wicked step mother Street-Porter, who I’m inclined to believe is penalising Facebook as if it were her very own demure step daughter. Okay, Facebook isn’t demure, but much like Cinderella it deserves positive recognition. Focusing on the rare cases that demonstrate the penetration of physical social evils into the complex hyper-reality of the social network is providing a hostage to fortune. For all the holier-than-thou rants bubbling up lately, there’s something to be said for looking on the bright side. And I think it’s very bright – almost as bright as this PC monitor at 4am.
To be frank, Janet Street-Porter’s article and its fixation with the protection of vulnerable customers to the concept of social networking throws out the wheat with the chaff; she recognises grisly details of paedophilia and suicide, but fails to permit a weight to the other pan of the scale.
Facebook is and will probably remain, at least for the foreseeable future, the most popular mainstream social network (why does she think it isn’t part of the mainstream media?) For millions of avid users it is a technological gateway into a realm of interconnectivity on an immeasurable scale. I for one am proud to be a part of this exciting social experiment-cum-custom.
Perhaps what I found most infuriating about Street-Porter’s article, though, was the insinuation that Facebook’s hopes rest on the young and the ultra-young maintaining an interest in it. This is absurd to assume. Facebook isn’t spreading, it’s already spread. The net has been laid and is catching more and more cyber-swimmers every day. To suggest it only exists to serve this proportion of the demographic is defeatist to the notion of social inclusion and equality; it’s like saying Chinese food only exists to be eaten by the Chinese. I mean, sure they invented the stuff, but there’s no law saying it was to always be made exclusively for them.
And, not only that, to also neglect to mention those of us who aren’t “impressionable” and have the common sense not to get harassed on a service that is fundamentally customisable through choice is lax. We don’t consider goading people into hanging themselves or compete to see how many friends we can amass. No, for us it’s about connecting with our closest and favourite people – our real friends.
Why, if it wasn’t for Facebook it would be much harder to stay in touch with my best friends from high school while at university. It took me a long time to earn their friendship and I’d like to keep it if I may. So if Facebook is one way of helping me remind those people how much they mean to me then I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I guess the answer to all this rancour is simple when I remember which newspaper website published Janet Street-Porter’s article: The Daily Mail. As some say in text-speak, ‘nuff said.