Moral Panics and Facebook

By: 
Bryan Meadan

When I wrote TranceNational AlienNation, my thesis that researches Trance Music culture in Israel and discusses the moral panic that ensues and targets the global trance community, I was surprised to find how easily people are whipped into a frenzy of panic by seemingly innocent events. Raves, drugs, youth culture in general, have all been targets of moral panics. This is not the place to analyze these phenomenon, for that you can read the book, but rather to discuss the place of Facebook in an ever panicking virtual world.

The Internet (like there's really just one Internet -- let's just call it God) has often come under fire in a fever of blame and anxiety surrounding children and the endless threats that open information and communication pose to them. They say, "fear your friends," or at least those that befriend you -- if they're strangers. "Search with filters," as to avoid having a 15 year-old boy stumble upon breasts. Oh the humanity! "Post with care," you never know what will come back to haunt you in a job interview when you're an adult (like teens never did anything stupid in the 80's). It's all moral panics and like most moral panics, it mostly unfounded fear. Yes, there are dangers out there. But there are far greater dangers in the real world. Open communication and endless data just make the world a bit smaller --for better and for worse.

And then there's Facebook. I don't know why I like to write about Facebook so much -- I rarely use it, except to answer others who do and as a necessary marketing tool. But you can't avoid using the most popular form of communication since the town crier. And that's where I join the panic. Facebook is slowly becoming a threat to privacy. Okay, that's a strong statement. But I don't take it back. Cnet's Molly Wood recently wrote how she's "afraid to click on any links on Facebook these days" (How Facebook is ruining sharing). I've been afraid for a while now, ever since I wrote a reply to a comment thinking it was a private message. Granted, I was stupid and not thinking, but still, why do I have to think so much on Facebook?

I am not a virus

Facebook privacy issues are still far from being a full blown moral panic, but they're doing a good job approaching it. It used to be that clicking Reply to All was the biggest fear you had disclosing something that wasn't meant for everyone's ears. Now, with Facebook's Open Graph you may as well email everything you do on the Internet to that town crier, because sooner or later it's going to appear on someone's wall.

So let's start by never, really, never, accepting to load, download, install or approve anything that we don't fully understand, particularly anything on Facebook that calls itself an app. Apps are programs, and just as we've learned not to install programs sent by email (remember the good ol' days when we were sent viruses in the form of Anna Kornakova pics?), we need to learn that the seemingly innocent socialscape of Facebook has it's own type of viruses.

It's been said that humans are the worst viruses on the planet ("The Matrix" 1999). So many of the spam-like emails forwarded to "everyone you know" are just that kind of human-proliferated virus. But here, Facebook has a golden opportunity to catch us where we're most vulnerable -- to use us to spread our own crap all over their world -- in our blind trust that a company as big and successful as Facebook can be trusted to look out for our best interest.

So to paraphrase "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy": Panic! It's in your best interest.

About the Author

Bryan Meadan Sociologist of the Internet

Bryan Meadan invented the Internet. Just kidding. But as a Sociologist and Web Developer he has been using sociology as a tool to create better sites since 1996. He builds exclusively with the Drupal Content Management Platform, and lectures and consults for businesses and non-profits around the globe.