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Debate: Harmfulness of Facebook

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This House believes that Facebook does more harm than good

Background and context

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Privacy: Does Facebook infringe upon privacy rights?

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Pro

  • Facebook news feeds generally makes people feel exposed and invaded: Danah Boyd, social networking scholar and blogger noted in 2006, "privacy is an experience that people have, not a state of data....When people feel exposed or invaded, there's a privacy issue."[1]
  • Many Facebook users don't understand the privacy implications of allowing news feeds (Therefore, News Feed should be an opt-in rather than an opt-out function). While it is true that users can opt-out of News Feed, this assumes that they would understand the implications of not opting out. The implication of not opting out of news feed is quite profound. Users can view every action you take on Facebook. This creates a general window of public observation of an individual's activities that can have a profound effect on the behaviour of that individual. Some cite this environment of constant observation as a panopticon, a “constant view of individuals through parasocietal mechanisms that influence behavior simply because of the possibility of being observed.” This environment of the constant potential for observation and surveillance dramatically effects behavior by making individuals constantly on-guard under the public observation glass. Yet, those that choose not to opt-out of "news feed" are not likely to consider the profound behavioral implications of these actions. Also, Facebook tends to hide the privacy features of people's accounts and sets the settings to a very visible default. An example of the effects of this is http://www.youropenbook.org/, which is an independent search engine for Facebook statuses.
  • Social networking sites give too great of access and control to governments. ACLU. "Facebook Not as Private as You Might Think" Retrieved 11.29.07 - "Thanks to some pre-Internet Supreme Court cases such as Smith v. Maryland, the Fourth Amendment does not apply to information held by a third parties like Facebook. The government does not need to have a court-ordered warrant to obtain your personal information held by Facebook- it just needs to ask for it with a subpoena.
  • Not all information is disclosed voluntarily. Given that anyone can submit anything on Facebook, it means that this person can share any information about any individual without permission. This infringes upon the right of every individual to privacy, which is based on sharing personal information selectively and voluntarily.
  • Commercial reasons not to promote tight security. Facebook does not motivate its users to secure their profiles and personal information more, because it has financial incentives to yield as much information from the users as possible. These include targeted adverts, selling personal information, etc.
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Con

  • Facebook's news-feed now has an off-switch, giving users the choice to adjust privacy settings. Choice is essential to privacy. If users can adjust privacy settings, than privacy issues largely disappear. It can no longer be argued in this context that Facebook or other social networking sites are violating the privacy of their users. Rather, the issue becomes that users are voluntarily opening themselves up to the world at their own risk.
  • Public information has a moderating effect on individuals. It is good that information about individuals is made more public. Social judgment has a positive moderating effect. Confucius actually said that he was very lucky that all of his actions were publicly scrutinized, as it ensured that he was careful and prudent in making decisions. Similarly, News Feed may make an individual think twice before they join an extremist group on Facebook, as it might risk a negative backlash of judgment from those in their network that view that action on News Feed.
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Friendships: Does Facebook harm relationships?

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Pro

  • Social networking sites distract from quality interpersonal connections. The most valuable connections are not made over the Internet but in person-to-person interactions. While social networking can be used to establish person-to-person interactions, it more frequently results in massive amounts of time being spent online interacting at a distance.
  • Facebook undermines the value of interpersonal relationships. Facebook restricts communication to a couple of words or sentences, instead of promoting real personal contact. People therefore socialize less, and their relationships become more superficial.
  • Facebook causes the harmful spread of gossip. As anything can be said on Facebook and anyone with the correct permissions can comment there is a risk of a gossip spread. This may be seen by the object of the discussion which may cause issues within the relationship. Gossiping can be done publicly or privately on Facebook, so it promotes bitchiness, gossip, bullying and being two-faced.
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Con

  • Long-distance friendships. Facebook helps people stay in touch, no matter how far they may be from each other.
  • Facebook is a symptom, not a cause. Our society is changing dramatically and Facebook is a mere byproduct of these changes. We live our lives differently, in diverse environments and social networking sites just reflect our altered attitudes.
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Crime: Does Facebook present a threat?

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Pro

  • Social networking sites make it possible to maintain fictional identity. Social networking sites allow people to create a "mask" and claim to be a completely different person from who they really are.
  • Facebook suits criminals perfectly. Thanks to "open" privacy setting and the main purpose of Facebook - sharing as much information as possible - this social networking site becomes a safe haven for stalkers, pedophiles, etc.
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Con

  • Information is disclosed and shared voluntarily and based on privacy setting. Users are rational people who can protect themselves by adjusting privacy settings and choosing which information they want to share.
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Information: Does Facebook help spread "undesirable" information? Does it matter?

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Pro

  • Social networking sites are a major distraction from learning. People are spending far too much time on social networking sites, and away from books, newspapers, and other educational resources. The information contained in social networking sites is generally shallow and trivial as compared to these other valuable sources of learning. Since there is limited time in the day and in life, that a growing proportion of that time is being spent by individuals on social networking sites is a major problem to the general education of the public.
  • Facebook fosters hate speech. Racist, xenophobic, extremist and other "hate speech" groups attract hundreds of members, who are not prosecuted, although hate speech is (in most countries) illegal.
  • Inappropriate content is not restricted by age. Even though Facebook - in theory - tries to prevent young children from having their own profile, in practice are its controls ineffective, as the only "proof" of someone's age is his or her own confirmation. Therefore even young children have access to certain inappropriate content (groups, fan pages, videos, photos), which can be morally damaging.
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Con

  • Facebook promotes freedom of speech. Facebook is sometimes the only tool to express someone's opinion in a politically unfree country that restricts basic human rights and freedoms.
  • Inappropriate content is being reported and removed.
  • Facebook can be used for educational purposes. Because Facebook makes information- and file-sharing easier, it is an ideal tool for students to share materials or discuss important issues.
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Unique harms: Are there any harms unique to Facebook?

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Pro

  • Facebook is too interconnected. Facebook not only helps spread information in form of videos, texts, and pictures, but it also reaches wide audience. Any cyberbullying, cyber threats, or hate speech has serious consequences precisely because it can provide much more data to many more people than a single web focusing on sharing videos, for example.
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Con

  • All possible harms are not unique to Facebook. Privacy issues, cyberbullying, inappropriate content. All of these are innate to not just Facebook, but all social networking sites. Other problems connected with Facebook - such as waste of time - are inherent to a large amount of other websites (games, chat...).
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Waste of time: Is Facebook just a waste of time?

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Pro

  • Facebook does not provide valuable content.
  • Facebook exacerbates negative effects of entertainment websites. Facebook offers a lot of distraction, which often results in procrastination in front of a screen. People thus spend more time engaging with computers, which can have negative health implications.
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Con

  • Facebook does provide valuable information. Certain fan pages or groups can be edifying, informing about different cultures, religions, traditions...
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Human factor: Is it Facebook, or its users doing harm?

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Pro

  • "A weapon cannot be separated from a murderer." Facebook is a powerful tool to do harm, and although this harm is, in effect, done by people, it is carried out through this website, which enables them to do so.
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Con

  • "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." It is not Facebook doing harm, it is its users. Had Facebook not existed, people would find other ways to hurt/harm each other.
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Culture: Does Facebook harm our culture?

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Pro

  • Facebook enhances stereotypes. There are many groups and fan pages that enhance our cultural biases, ranging from "Heyy Babe Lets Put Up The England Flags.. LOL Jk, The Muslims Dnt Like It!" fan page to "brunettes are better" groups.
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Con

  • Facebook undermines stereotypes. Dozens of groups and fan pages are trying to undermine social and cultural biases, such as "Muslims are not terrorists", or "We Christians love Pakistan".
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Commercial use of info: Is the commercial use of personal information unethical?

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Pro

  • It is unethical for social network sites to use personal information to enable advertisers to better target you as a consumer. Personal information should not be used for commercial purposes. It is too invasive, and can cause emotional damage. For example, what if your profile indicates that your boy friend just broke up with you, for example. An ad agency is allowed to obtain this information and use it to send you an advertisement on break-ups. This could do emotional damage.
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Con

  • Social networking sites have agreements that explicitly say that information can be used commercially in any way. If an individual doesn't want their information to be used commercially, than they shouldn't enter into agreements with these social networking sites. Or, they should close their account.
  • More targeted advertising is of greater value to the consumer. Why should we complain that advertisers will have more information about us to advertise to us things that we are more interested in buying? Advertising is not evil. Ads inform the consumer of a product that they may judge to be of value in their lives and worth spending money on. No product is being forced on consumers by ads, but offered as something that the consumer might deem worthy to purchase. Therefore, it should be welcome that social networking sites offer advertising firms information that can bring products of greater potential value to a particular consumer's attention.

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