Thursday, April 7, 2011

Facebook Users, Beware!

I'm not on Facebook (although our firm is).  The more I hear about Facebook in the news, the more satisfied I am with my decision to abstain from use of the social networking site.  Facebook isn't the only culprit; it's just the most ubiquitous.

The prevalence of social media has many benefits: we can keep in touch with our friends, get updates about sales at our favorite stores, and monitor the real-time progress of our hometown teams.  Even start revolutions.  But for all the information we take in, we also seem very free to put information about ourselves out there for others.

This "Facebook effect" has been growing as the popularity of social media in general has grown; for example, there was a story published in The Telegraph about Facebook and the divorce rate in the UK almost a year and a half ago to this effect.  There was one published in Time magazine nearly two years ago.  But those were just the tip of the iceberg.

As social media have proliferated, we're finding a whole new host of ways to get ourselves in trouble.  According to an erroneously attributed Loyola University study and press release (cited here), Facebook is now being implicated in 1 in 5 divorces in the US (although the Wall Street Journal's Numbers Guy disputes that number).  The situation is similar elsewhere; it's become the "virtual third party" according to a more recent article in Britain's Telegraph.  If fact, St. Louis's very own Alisse Camazine was interviewed for a story by KSDK on the rise of social media in divorce cases.

Does Facebook really cause all these divorces?  And whether it does or doesn't, what do you do with all this information?  Here are my thoughts:

Facebook doesn't cause divorce.  It may cause, or maybe enable is a better word, a lack of attention to one's spouse, the rekindling of an old flame, meeting new people (friends of friends), "harmless" flirting, and even affairs.  Actually, enable may not be quite right either; all those things have been obstacles in the past.  I think it's just that Facebook and other social media make doing them so much easier.  Whereas before, people may have resisted because there was just too much inertia, now all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse.  Since we're at our computers all day anyway, it doesn't seem like we're really doing anything wrong or scandalous or immoral or even questionable.

That, I think, is the real problem: our standards of behavior have not kept up with the changing technology.