Faceless

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Imagine a fantastic new country, with a population of nearly 750 million people. On the surface, it appears to be a utopia. Everyone is friends; there are games to play and videos to watch. Everyone can share their thoughts and feelings, anytime, about anything. Everyone is connected. Under the surface of this seemingly perfect country, however, faceless predators lurk, learning your secrets, feeding off your fears, and following your every move. Though such a place may seem to be pure fantasy, it is real. It is Facebook – one of the most popular social media sites for exchanging information today. America is quickly becoming dependent on the social media, but such behavior may lead to a rise in teen cyber bullying and internet predators unless young networkers become more vigilant.

According to The New York Times, Facebook, founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, reached 750 million users worldwide in July of 2011. It is the largest social network on the planet, a true “titan of the Internet (“Facebook”).” Though it was originally designed for college-aged students, the site is now a hotspot for children, teenagers, adults, and even some businesses, which proves to be an advantage for advertising or when job-hunting (Silver). In fact, there are some businesses that would not exist if not for social media. Still, Facebook seems to be predominately populated by teens. I myself have a Facebook, which I update daily, and most of my friends admit to having Facebook open when doing homework on the computer. For me, logging on to Facebook is almost automatic whenever I open the internet. Facebook is a great way to share videos from pep rallies or photos from homecoming, or even to remind you of important events like birthdays. With so much information available literally at the touch of a button, it’s easy to stay connected to friends – and strangers.

Privacy has always been an issue for those joining the networking scene (Silver). Most sites will require users to provide some personal information – name, birthday, email address, etc. Says Curtis Silver, a financial/data analyst from Wired.com, “I don’t have to tell people my innermost secrets, I don’t have to put my correct birthday or favorite foods. That’s all optional. I don’t even have to use my real name.” The upside is teens do not have to provide accurate information, but the downside is predators can do the same. Predators can pass themselves off as young or old, male or female, and it is almost impossible to know what is true. Younger users, on the other hand, especially teenagers, are notorious for providing too much personal information (Henley). Even the most seemingly insignificant details can become dangerous weapons in the wrong hands. People who carelessly share their personal information make themselves vulnerable to attacks by mysterious predators.
“For over 25 million youth, Facebook is replacing email as ‘the’ way to communicate,” says Kari Henley, president at the Women & Family Life Center in Connecticut. Even so, many parents are asking themselves, are these sites really safe for kids? I wasn’t allowed to create a Facebook account until I was in eighth grade, and even then my parents weren’t thrilled about it. Middle- and high- school aged children are more vulnerable to cyber bullying, more likely to give out too much information, and more likely to get hurt. Most teens do not understand the effect online harassment can have. They do and say things they would not normally say or do. They think the anonymity of the internet protects them from repercussions. They are wrong; the depression rate in kids has risen alarmingly, along with the reports of teen suicide (Henley). Teens are powerless to stop the faceless taunts and threats from the internet, and turn to drastic measures as the only choice. They do not realize that they themselves are providing their attackers with the weapons they need.
Am I saying social networking is bad? That it is unsafe to use? No. Like everything, Facebook is perfectly fine in moderation. The most important consideration is knowing when to stop. We need to stop before the bullying gets out of hand. We need to stop before lives are ruined and children are dead. We need to stop and think before we invite strangers into our lives to spy and deceive. Most importantly, we need to stop before we become another faceless statistic in the complex new world of social media.





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