Tuesday, October 15, 2013

If it’s on Facebook, it must be true

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Update Facebook Status Update

I truly fear the day; probably sometime in the very near future, when the phrase, “If it’s on Facebook, it must be true…” is used in open court as factual evidence. Not because I especially distrust this particular social networking platform, but because it would imply that social media has become a document of record. This would mean that content from Facebook and other social networks could be cited in court as evidence of information being true, of an event having occurred, or of a person (or object) actually existing.

Many commentators have explored this question of social media and “did it really happen” either in the context of existentialism (“I Instragram therefore I am”), or in respect to social media etiquette (“just because you can, doesn't mean you should”). I am more concerned with what happens when we start to place inappropriate reliance upon content and information published via social media? It took a number of years for faxes and e-signatures to be accepted in court as evidence of a document having been executed or a legally binding agreement having been created. E-mail is now admissible as evidence that a formal notice has been served between parties to a contract. In some situations, e-mails and text messages are cited in court proceedings as evidence of a person’s promises, denials, deeds, and opinions, state of mind or intent. “Smoking gun e-mails” are not uncommon in major court cases, and many organizations are required to archive e-mails and instant messaging for the very purpose of maintaining a “paper trail” in the event of future legal proceedings.

At some point Facebook became less about sharing and more about validation. Well, go out to a restaurant in the city and have a look at all the couples out for a romantic dinner who spend the night staring down at their phones. Or your Facebook news feed that is full of ‘selfies’ at this club or that bar. The answer starts to become clear; Lots and lots of people think like that.Going out to a really cool place is only half the experience now. Having your photo taken next to a celebrity or checking in is the real fun part! After all, that’s what proves once and for all you were there. Right?

I read that the ‘checking in’ process is an ingrained part of the human psyche. When a human discovers something, they plant a flag. Be it a new continent many centuries ago or the moon. Once we arrive, we feel compelled to state ‘Look. I was here!’. The Facebook Timeline enhanced this need to tell a story. Now you can travel back in time with one of the most comprehensive diaries ever kept. Within seconds you can see photos, comments, locations, thoughts, friends; and overall snapshot of your life at that time. Checking in is just one more detail in your online diary.So perhaps Checking In on Facebook or Foursquare is kind of like a new-tech cave drawing or hieroglyphics. We are telling a story. Our story.

Or perhaps it’s simply about looking cool to your friends. For the same reason you’d want a photo hugging a celebrity; it gives you social status. Checking into an expensive restaurant, sold-out concert or big sporting event builds social identity, which is a form of currency in these days where fame is regarded as the pinnacle of happiness for many. So maybe it’s all about credibility. The cooler the check-ins, the cooler you are perceived to be. Nowadays you can’t hold any event if it hasn't been put on FB somewhere along the line. If it doesn’t have an official FB event page created then party-goers will attempt to inform the World that they were there by checking in or uploading a picture of themselves with the invitee. Seriously though, if you tell people you went to an awesome party over the weekend people will generally look at you with disbelief because they think “Well if it was THAT awesome, why wasn't any mention of it on Facebook?..”

Do you have friends that share their romantic gestures through social media? I saw this spectacular proposal video soon after it was posted to YouTube. It had just over 300 views at the time. It now has five million. Guess what? It would be just as special without five million views. It would have been just as amazing if they’d never filmed it. The bride to be would still have that heart pounding moments as she thought back to her partner asking her to marry him. It would be great to keep some of the beauty in your life all to yourself. To enjoy that moment and image just for what it is and not for your peers reaction to it.


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