Monday, 10 August 2009

Don't shoot the MSN Messenger

Never happier than when it's blaming a youth trend for all the ills of society (and deftly removing all culpability from parents), the Daily Mail has given a name to its pain. And its name is Facebook.

For over two years now, the Mail has regularly used the popular social networking site as a handy target for everything wrong with modern society, in much the same way that it used to blame hip hop in the nineties, or video nasties a decade earlier.

The latest story to namecheck Facebook, features the sad story of Law graduate Lowri Ryland, a 21-year old beauty queen who resorted to plastic surgery after one of her friends poked fun at the size of her nose. Apparently, Lowri had always hated her nose, but only realised that something needed to be done when considerate friends suggested she wear a mask to distract from her prominent proboscis. Despite the story's happy ending (girl looks prettier, competes in beauty contest, updates Facebook status), the inference is clear - that she was driven to drastic action by malicious users of the website.

A week earlier, the Mail was ranting about 'cyber bullies' driving innocent teens to suicide, because 15-year-old Megan Gillan took a fatal overdose of painkillers after being picked-on via Bebo. Once again, the delivery method seemed a much easier target than the culture in which bullying is allowed to proliferate.

Not to be outdone in the 'out-of-touch' stakes, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, spoke out against networking sites, warning that they could cause a rise in suicides. Following a line of logic about as tangible as real fruit juice in Sunny D, he argued that the websites promote the development of 'transient relationships' which, when they collapse or expire, can leave young people feeling desolate and isolated. So, much like high school then.

Not convinced by the spiritual justification for banning this sick filth(TM)? Try science instead. In a wonderfully surreal piece in February, the Mail piggybacked on an article posted in the journal of the Institute of Biology, to suggest that networking sites reduce face-to-face contact, increase isolation, alter genes, upset immune systems, inhibit hormones, impair mental performance, and therefore increase the risk of cancer, strokes, heart disease and dementia. No word as yet as to whether similar conditions can be attributed to the exclusive consumption of the Daily Mail.

So what's their problem, and why have Facebook and its ilk become the easy target for all that middle-aged, middle-class indignation? The answer is quite simple really - it's because young people have fun on Facebook. And that can only be a bad thing. From the moment social networking became a hot-button media issue, the Mail has regularly attacked it for encouraging 'ladette behaviour', drunken partying and the sharing of nude photos.

All these attacks haven't gone unnoticed, and loyal Facebook fans are fighting back the only way they know how - by forming new communities and networks to counteract their natural enemy. So if anyone's interested, you'll find 10,343 like minds here.

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