London Letter: Facebook – Be careful with the online you

A titan of the internet universe, Facebook is now said to be even more popular than google, and is valued at $50 billion after investment by Goldman Sachs. A quick glance over some Facebook profiles, however, and you would question how dumbed down English, cringe worthy tributes to the deceased and shocking status updates from some individuals could be part of such a phenomenon.

Debate continues over privacy issues on the site, and while a lot of this will be of little interest to those who dip in and out of their Facebook walls for trivial musings, perhaps people should be a little more careful about how they portray themselves and how they use the site.

While there is the illusion that you are among family and friends in a cosy online community, and cranked up privacy settings are allowing you to say whatever you please, Facebookers should realise that every single thing they do on Facebook is viewed, judged and scrutinised by those 600 “friends” and more. It isn’t just potential employers googling you that you should worry about; one dodgy status update and that work colleague, neighbour, cousin or far out acquaintance could form an impression of you that will be very hard to change.

Everything you do on Facebook, whether it is updating your status, uploading photos, being tagged in other people’s photos or commenting on friends’ walls, combines to create an online construct of who you are. Therefore, while bullying, hacking and other privacy issues continue to deserve attention, more emphasis needs to be placed on your own online presence and the impression you give to all those “friends” and friends of friends that may view your profile.

Recently, people have begun to use Facebook as a way of promoting their own blogs or sharing other online journalism in the hope of provoking discussion in comments underneath. This is an example of how useful the site can be and how social networking has progressed.

However, almost daily I need a deep intake of breath as I see what people are prepared to say on Facebook, despite the fact that they are effectively in a public sphere. Even if you have your Facebook page secured as tightly as possible, with all privacy settings sealed, the reality is that not all of those 600 “friends” are actually close companions. A lot of them are likely to be people you have met once, or who you know vaguely through another friend. They might be people who were in your class at school seven years ago, or perhaps they are people you holidayed with in your childhood.

We have often read and written about the protective barrier a computer screen becomes when you’re sitting in front of it with a keyboard, and how it makes saying outlandish things a lot easier.

But would you make the admission on Facebook that you used to be a drug dealer and take every drug imaginable? Would you reveal that you drink and drive and think it’s no big deal? One particular profile I viewed, which is genuine as I know the owner, stated all of the above, all of which was written in text speak of course. There is no doubt that everyone who could see those status updates have now formed an opinion of the person who wrote them, and probably told mutual friends, or “friends” as the case may be.

Another social networking crime committed by facebookers is writing soppy status updates about the dead, which I think not only come across as embarrassing and silly, but also rather disrespectful. More often than not they are written in text speak, or are littered with spelling mistakes, and are almost always finished off with one or more exclamation marks followed by Xs and Os. I can’t think of anything less dignified than a badly typed “tribute” on a Facebook wall, which might appear just above another update about “going on the rip” or having a hangover. There is a time and a place, and I fear that soon we will be using Facebook to announce deaths and invite people to funerals, rendering the obituary pages of the Irish News completely pointless.

You must remember that people who do not know you very well, but who have been on your Facebook page, will base their entire opinion of you on the nature of your online presence: What you say, what you link to, what photos you appear in.

If you were a stranger viewing your profile, what would you think of yourself?

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  • Mark McGregor

    I kinda get where you are coming from, I had a status update (not one of my mental ones, just personal information) lifted by a journalist and subject of a small piece in a national Sunday paper. Took me a long while to go from anger at not being a public figure and still having stuff on me in the paper, back to not giving a fiddlers what anyone says, writes or thinks about me.

  • DC

    re – cringe worthy tributes to the deceased:

    ‘RIP – up wiv da angles now’?

    and about But would you make the admission on Facebook that you used to be a drug dealer and take every drug imaginable?

    Yes sure don’t ever say that – best to maintain the hypocritical social conservative outlook, retain that moral rectitude above all else in principle despite in practice giving it the two fingers.

    Such deceitfulness is part and parcel of Irish political life.

    I suppose in terms of employment – you would need to be wary in case prospective employers snooped around – but none the less same deceitfulness still applies.

    Image is everthing – careful now!

  • ‘RIP – up wiv da angles now’

    An excellent example of what I’m talking about DC!

    Yeah, I suppose keeping the drug dealing secret could be viewed as deceitful…but if you viewed the profile I’m talking about here, you would have a field day with the way this person is using facebook. I dip in and out of this particular profile quite often and have formed an opinion which I doubt will ever change. I can confidently say that if an employer viewed it they would run a mile.

    It’s just an extreme example.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    On Facebook I am a minimalist. But recently Ive got “add me” messages from people I dont even like. Theyve been rejectd of course.
    But surely the text speak is a juvenile thing. If people type in text speak then surely they are not to be taken seriously.

    If the figures of 1 billion users is right (that would be more than 10% of the world) then surely that means a lot of people have more than one account (actually I have a bout five I think which Ive never closed).
    Surely the right way to do these things is have about five accounts anyway…….one for family, one for dating (not speaking from experience) , one for networking, one for (say) football or whatever.

  • circles

    Yes indeed – let’s limit access to facebook to those who have an acceptable degree of literacy and don’t make fools of themselves in public!

    Those poor foolish drug-taking, drinking, ill educated people would be better off keeping their embarassing sentiments at the death of a loved one, acquaintance or indeed favourite soap star to themselves. Or at least not bother us who have our own important online blogs to flog, or stimulating topics to discuss. Why not start a new service for this class of people? Perhaps we could call it Bakebook, a term they are more likely to understand?

    On the other hand, maybe those people whose dearly departed now rest “wiv da angles”, or have their “heads melted from last nights massive swallying session” find those profiles that take themselves too seriously with high-brow commentary on the middle-east crisis, to be just a load of old wank.
    Fair enough I say.

  • DC

    Why not start a new service for this class of people?

    Well no need for a new service – there is Bebo?

  • circles

    right enough – that’s the short version of bakebook.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Is BEBO still available? I was on it for about a week. But nobody over 25 seemed to be on it.
    MySpace is I think much better…..more diverse.
    Ultimately there is nothing more pathetic than an old geezer like me updating his status on Facebook. Ive done nothing interesting since 1977……April 17th……

  • thethoughtfulone

    Surely it’s only a bad thing if you don’t want people to know what sort of person you really are?

  • DC

    @fitzjames – Ive done nothing interesting since 1977

    A Facebook page for you:

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    “The person you really are”?
    “Or the person you say you are” ?
    While Ive avoided listing my schools and former employments simply because they are not relevant or point to who I “really” am.
    ….while I fully understand people not being “open”……there is surely scope to create an entirely bogus profile. Im sure there are a lot of married guys out there with a profile that says they are single and ten years younger than they actually are.
    Women would never do that 🙂

  • DC


    What do you think of the much used mobile-phone-in-the-mirror face shots?

  • Rory Carr

    I don’t use Facebook myself (and have abandoned Twitter as an inanity after a few tries) as I assumed that it was one of those sites used only by teenagers for wittering on about the things teenagers witter on about – mostly themselves, their failed romances, their sexual conquests and, yes, maudlin epitaths to the memory of deceased friends, relatives and pop stars and while I’m more than a wee bit past that now, I do not begrudge it to them – everyone is entitled to his time and his youthful folly. I’ve had mine and I’m sure I was no less idiotic, maudlin, insincere, yet also burningly sincere and passionate and fulsomely inarticulate as today’s young ones.

    I find myself in sympathy with Circles’ response above and while it might be prudent to advise prudence lest the unscrupulous use such unintentional foolishness to victimise or stigmatise surely we should be more worried about the type of nasty bastards, including potential employers, who would stoop to such levels.

  • thethoughtfulone

    But an entirely bogus profile will only last until you meet the person and then they’re even worse off because you realise that they’re totally false as well!

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Yes I tend to agree with Mr Carr.
    Facebook is a young persons medium and theres always something rather silly and touching about oldies on Facebook. I suspect my Facebook presence is a bit like my presence on the dance floor at a family wedding.
    Cringeworthy but I think Im cool….especially jiving.
    Like Mr Carr, I dont begrudge young people their silliness. They are entitled. My silliness is entirely involuntary.
    Twitter…..I tried for about a week and forgot about it.
    It requires a dexterity and an inflated ego ……..and I have neither

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Well of course theres a very serius issue of people setting up bogus profiles in chat rooms etc to groom people etc.
    And of course a less serious issue of married people flirting etc.
    To some extent they WANT to believe they are talking to a US Marine or Lingerie Model. Or…… I am told.

  • Mark McGregor


    “It requires a dexterity and an inflated ego ……..and I have neither”

    That’s just false modesty, you certainly have one

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    MMG…..well yes I have very impressive thumbs.

  • @DC

    I very much enjoy the style of photo you are referring to. They make me smile and feel excited about what delights I will find written in text speak which is even too cool for me to understand. However, they are much more of the Bebo era than the Facebook age.

    @Rory Carr and FJH

    I don’t begrudge young people their silliness either. I’m young and at times very silly…but there’s silly and then there’s something else. Silly is fine.

  • circles

    I have to disagree with a few of the posts here and say that in my experience, although Facebook is used by young people and very often for trivial purposes, it is also used by organisations, political parties, politically interested groups etc. to spread information and keep people working around the world in similar field in cotact in a way that “traditional” e-mailing can’t.
    So its not all just “smickers and wha'”, it does have a serious side and use. I’m sure even Rory and FJH could find a useful purpose for it.
    In saying that though – the main post here reads more like something from the Ireland’s Own Guide to using Facebook. Has that fusty 1950’s conservative feel to it.

  • Also, I see nothing wrong with employers checking out people’s facebook profiles. If someone has a public profile then they cannot pick and choose who views it. If I was an employer with umpteen applications to get through I’d be delighted to have a facility such as Facebook.

  • “Ireland’s Own Guide to using Facebook”

    That’s one of the best things I’ve read in ages!

    I’ll look out for it! 🙂

  • DC

    re –However, they are much more of the Bebo era than the Facebook age.

    Has the Bebo age passed, is it over – end of an era?

    Crikey, will have to set up an RIP Bebo group using the Like function on FB.

  • “Crikey, will have to set up an RIP Bebo group using the Like function on FB.”

    That shows poor Facebook knowledge.


  • I heard today of an acquaintance (he isn’t a friend on facebook) who was left by his wife recently because of inappropriate and flirtatious tweets. Having viewed his twitter stream i was very surprised to hear that he was married because of the way he was getting on.
    What goes around comes around i guess.

    I also know of quite a few folks who have a facebook profile with a silly name and only by really knowing them personally would you know who they are and what they are talking about. That is very definitely a response to ‘big brother’ being online and that yes everything you put out on the web is catalogued somewhere down the line.

  • Rory Carr

    Why it should be considered somehow sneaky of individuals to set up less than honest profiles when commercial and other organisations don’t ever bother to highlight anything of themselves other than their often suspect merits while declining to offer for our inspection any of their shortcomings seems a bit unbalanced to me.

    Consider the type of promotion that honesty would compel:

    ACME INSURANCE – guaranteed to leave you in the lurch !

    Considering a career in the Armed Forces? – You must be mad!

    I can’t see it happening really.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    I was surprised to see that one of the TV News Channels yesterday had an interview with an “Appentice” winner (no Ive never watched it!) who seems to run an advertising agency or whatever who matches products to FB profiles.
    A kinda targetted advertising.
    Frankly I dont understand internet advertising. I always use the remote control to move thru channels when advertising appears on TV .
    I know that adverts appear down the side of FB page but Ive never ever looked at any.
    Currently on my page there are four.
    “cottage break for two”
    “trace your ancestors”
    “buy a citreon” (I no longer drive)
    “O2 mobiles” (I dont own a mobile)

  • Rory Carr

    Which reminds me: for a long time there was a entry every week in the personal ads section of the Daily Telegraph almost standing alone in the ‘Man seeking Man’ section that read something like:

    “Old, ugly, bald, toothless farmer seeks other men for romantic interludes.

    I was never motivated to respond myself but I sometimes yet think of him and wonder how he got on.

    Fitzjameshorse should be wary of charges of sexism being levelled – in today’s modern U.S. navy it is perfectly possible to be both a marine and a lingerie model, though only I believe, given the failure of a recent attempt to reform the ‘Dont ask, don’t tell’ policy on homosexuality, if one happens to be a female marine.

  • HeinzGuderian

    Catherine………..why would anyone care,what another person on FB thought about them ? Lace curtain twitching for the electronic age………GET A LIFE.

    Do you send texts ? Do you use *txt spk* ??

    Here’s a tip,if you don’t like what the great unwashed/never washed,get up to online……………DON’T LOOK !!!

    There’s a pile up on the Motorway………..quick,jump in the car and go and get a few photo’s……………

    Slugger…………… low hath thee stooped ?? 🙁

  • Reader

    Rory Carr: in today’s modern U.S. navy it is perfectly possible to be both a marine and a lingerie model, though only […] if one happens to be a female marine.
    Fact is stranger than fiction

  • @HeinzGuderian

    I don’t have to like something to want to look at it. I enjoy watching the musings and behaviour of all sorts of people on facebook…like/dislike doesn’t usually come into it. The prospect of not viewing such entertaining profiles is a very sad one, and I intend to continue noseying at all the text speaking, ill-advised, foolish updates for some time to come. I’m just glad I have more sense.

    🙂 iz dat alryt?

  • Great quote from Julian Assange…..

    “What are the differences between Mark Zuckerberg and me? I give private information on corporations to you for free, and i’m a villain. Mark Zuckerberg gives your private information to corporations for money and he’s Man of the Year.”

  • Rory Carr

    Assange was the choice of Time readers for the Man* of the Year title by an overwhelming majority but were overruled by the editor which I find hardly surprising from the editor of a journal that is more dedicated to pro-big business spin than open accountability and disclosure.

    I ceased buying Time sometime after my sixteenth birthday after realising that I could just as easily get flub for free.

    * The title, I believe, has now been changed to Person of the Year although it has rarely been awarded to a woman. Those women who have won include: Wallis Simpson (1936); Madame Chiang Kai-Shek (jointly with her husband 1937); Queen Elizabeth II (in 1952, although not crowned Queen until 1953);Corazon Aquino (1986).

    And that’s it unless you include them among the award to American Women in 1975; “The Whistleblowers” in 2002, represented by Cynthia Cooper, WorldCom; Coleen Rowley, FBI and Sherron Watkins of Enron. And there were probably also intended to be women readers among the award to “You” in 2006 although with such a mysogynistic record one can’t be too sure.

    Incidentally Franklin D. Roosevelt won the award on three occasions – in 1932; 1934 and 1941. Stalin won it after that in 1942 but, alas, never again. I wonder why?

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Im surprised Thatcher is not on the list.
    But perhaps the Guardians role in aiding “wikileaks” infuenced the Editor of The Times.

  • Rory Carr

    Yes, Fitzjameshorse. That hadn’t occurred to me but Thatcher’s omission is certainly surprising. Or it would be if my charge of misogyny didn’t have weight. But the added omissions (if one can add an omission) of Amelia Earhart; Golda Meir; Sirimavo Bandaranaike; Indira Ghandi and Selma Hayek* lend that very weight.

    *O.K. I had to put in Selma Hayek just for her table-top dance in Robert Rodriguez’s `1996 movie From Dusk Till Dawn.
    A man’s entitled to his prejudices, isn’t he ?

  • Rory any bar that has Los Lobos as the house band and Selma Hayek dancing and pouring tequila as she does would warrant a visit (in daylight hours of course)
    A much under rated film

  • Rory Carr

    Thank you, Moochin. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Good job the blood pressure pills are close at hand.

    You are right about it being a much under-rated film (and the best piece of propaganda the Baptists ever had !).

  • You’re Welcome Rory
    Oh and George Clooney is in it so theres something for the ladies too

  • Rory Carr

    As my first thoughts are always for the ladies I am delighted for them too.

  • Rory Carr

    …and of course Juliette Lewis plays a schoolgirl with a younger brother, so that should keep the clergy happy as well.

  • “It isn’t just potential employers googling you that you should worry about”

    Our Ministers, MLAs, MPs, MEPs and councillors should be a little more discriminating about their choice of Facebook friends. There could be a honey-trap out there just waiting to snap 🙂