Facebook: To Ban Or Not To Ban?
By Abdul H. Azeez
The Police Women and Children’s Bureau has expressed concern over the recent spate of complaints that they have received about Facebook. The complaints include incidents of people creating fake profiles and indecent images using pictures of users of the service.
The Women and Children’s Bureau as a response to the complaints has inquired with the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission about the possibility of shutting down the popular social networking site, which has millions of users in Sri Lanka.
But the TRC Chairman, Anusha Palpita has stressed that ‘access to Facebook is a human right and therefore we cannot take measures to block the site.’ Public debate has always existed on the merits and demerits of social networking especially among internet users, and the vast consensus has been that despite its shortcomings, social networking sites provide benefits that far outweigh their drawbacks.
Personally, Facebook has helped me get in touch with old friends whom i would have otherwise never been able to meet or talk to. It facilitates communication over vast distances, allows for people to communicate with each other in their own cool time and above all provides a platform to do it in a way that is fun and interactive. Facebookers (as we are collectively known) often play games, exchange pictures and videos and generally engage in harmless fun with friends. It’s like hanging out, but online.
This comfortable environment created for people to interact with each other is one of the main reasons for Facebook’s popularity. In addition to this people can also use the site as a platform to showcase their talents (many budding poets, designers and musicians have got popularity boosts through Facebook), engage in common interests by forming ‘groups’ and also engage in serious social debate. Celebrities, companies and politicians have not been unaware of this and anyone who is someone in the world has a Facebook ‘fan page’ or group to engage with the public. Barrack Obama, for instance ran a very successful Facebook campaign in the lead up to the 2008 Presidential Election.
Many Sri Lankan politicians and celebs also have dedicated Facebook pages. Sri Lankans often engage in heated debate over any aspects of political and social life. It’s like a chat with the neighbours in the evening, except that this chat happens off the streets and on the computer, and takes place all day and even at night. In other words its like society, but online.
But like society, online society too has its ills, shady characters and crooks. And like real society its mostly up to the discretion of the individual to protect himself from these ills. But online society does have one drawback in the sense that legal regulation is hard. So whereas people can always turn to the police if ‘real life’ situations go bad, doing the same for online incidents is often hard.
But online life is fast becoming a part of real life. And often people find themselves unable to tell the difference. So how does one protect against online social ills? Developed nations, where laws and security infrastructure have caught up with web-developments, offer more options for people seeking justice. But in lesser developed countries it is mostly a case of self regulation, the use of security-restrictions and plain being careful with what you say and do that will help you avoid getting into messy situations.
Facebook has been banned in some countries, but mostly in response to socio-political phenomena that have managed to offend sections of society. Recently it was banned in Pakistan because of a page that carried derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammed. Although the Government of Pakistan relented and eventually allowed the service back in, it continues to block pages which it deems offensive. Similar incidents have happened in Bangladesh.
Instances of the sort which have motivated the complaints received by the police are commonplace occurrences. The usual response for most people is to immediately inform their friends about the impostor (asking them to block the profile in question) and take immediate steps to report offenders to Facebook (yes you can do that). In addition the site offers options that allow you to control who sees your pictures and has access to your profile that you can adjust at any time based on your needs.
Most people find that with sufficient care a sticky situation can be avoided. And people who don’t like the concept of revealing personal information online either heavily regulate their profiles or stay out of it altogether. Completely banning Facebook due to a few complaints however, is not the ‘done thing,’ especially when there are other options that can be looked at first.