One of my roommates recently met a guy through Facebook. He messaged her that he’d seen her around, and he was in The New School network. As it turned out, he was a normal guy.
Facebook provides a reasonably safe environment, offering privacy settings that make it easy for users to manage who can access their information. Beyond that, it’s up to users to exercise their own judgment. Facebook shouldn't be held accountable for its users’ carelessness.
Recently, the Child Online Exploitation Protection (CEOP) center in the U.K. called for Facebook to install a “panic button,” in the form of a graphic on each profile that would provide access to tips on guarding against online predators. Most other social networking sites have some kind of gateway to such guidance and CEOP is upset that Facebook refuses to implement one.
But Facebook’s decision makes sense to me. Such a “safety” feature is laughable; it doesn’t seem that it would be any more or less effective than the current system of being able to report and block other users. It’s not hard to protect yourself on Facebook. A “panic button” sounds invasive and condescending. I’m not the only one who would resent it—every time Facebook reformats several groups sprout up protesting the changes. Installing a “panic button” would provoke the same resistance.
The new campaign was incited by the murder of 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall in the U.K. last fall. The story is not unfamiliar. A few years ago it wasn’t uncommon to hear about teens lured by pedophiles whose profiles portrayed them as young and attractive.
But around the time Facebook surpassed MySpace in popularity, the hype died down as we all became desensitized to these stories. Unlike MySpace, Facebook has never had the reputation of being littered with stalkers and pedophiles. Facebook may seem more representational and less anonymous because, instead of going by usernames like on MySpace, we use our real names on Facebook, at least in theory.
When I get a friend request from a total stranger with no mutual friends, I reject it. I limit my profile. I don’t share my password. I don’t include my address or my phone number in my profile. I don’t post anything too personal on my wall or on any of my friends’ walls. All of the above precautions seem obvious to me.
Why should Facebook compensate for the ignorance of the few when most of us are capable of using the Internet without incident? It’s harsh, but natural selection is at work. In this case, the skills needed to navigate the Internet safely are necessary in the modern world, since so much of our lives are carried out online.