10 January, 2011

The Facebook slickers

About three weeks ago, I was very surprised to discover my fifteen year-old son having a Facebook account; I was even more surprised - and very much upset, that his younger brother had an account too. Although both knew I was very much against 'social' internet sites, they seemed to be surprised by my reaction and feelings; they were surprised, as - the way they later explained to me - most of their cousins and friends, some much younger than them - as young as nine, were on Facebook. This, sort of shocked me: I just couldn't understand how boys as young as them and some being in very remote places in Hadhramout and Yemen - would ever want to have a Facebook account. After calming down, and after telling both of them to immediately stop using their accounts, I decided to find out more on why they would need Facebook accounts and what they did on the sites. It took me almost one week and much talking and persuasion to get the whole story - from my sons, their cousins and friends: all numbering fourteen. What I found out was disturbing; at the same time comical and sort of made Facebook, and social sites for that matter - look silly.

My sons, their cousins and friends had all created Facebook accounts using fake names; using aliases - most of the names they provided were catchy. And: they all did not state their real ages but gave their birth dates to make them appear much older - on Facebook, they were all between 21 and 28 years old; some of them went as far as putting their addresses as not being in Yemen. As if all these were not enough, each of them had at least 2 Facebook accounts; some - had 5 accounts; all with different fictitious names. And what did they do with the accounts? They simply chatted with each other; or with 'friends' they had made online - this was the very dangerous part of their 'fun'. They all competed in having as many 'friends' as possible; one of them had 378 'friends'. 'Friends' who, some like them - were fictitious and some were being made fools of by a bunch of teenage boys. This was not the end of the story; I later discovered that - my retired uncle who was in his 60s and who has very little knowledge of computers, was also using the 'social' site: he too - did not use his real name and had more than 10 accounts; all with fictitious names. All of them had one main reason for using the site: they simply were 'having fun' and 'passing time'. What a way to have fun and pass time! For them to create the Facebook accounts, they needed email accounts; which would mean - creating a new email account for each Facebook account.When I asked them - why they each had several accounts; they said that they 'just' decided to do that and that it was 'more fun' being different people.

A few days ago I was alone far from home, and at night, preparing to sleep - while watching Bloomberg's TV presentation: `Facebook: The $50 Billion Question' - my thought kept on fleeting back to my sons, their cousins and their friends. And my uncle. Facebook claims that, worldwide, it has about half-a-billion people using their site and 70% of them are out of the USA. I did some calculation: 14 times, lets say 3 would equal to 42; plus 10 or so - that would make 52. Meaning that Facebook had 52 users from Yemen; 52 fictitious, who are in actual fact - 15; 15 fictitious users who 'signed up' to 'have fun' and 'pass time'. They had that many users until a few weeks ago when I busted at least 42 users. Well: I did tell my sons to immediately stop using the site; I also strongly advised their cousins and friends - I also informed their parents - to do the same. As for my uncle who I realized used the computer only for Facebook and listening to music, I tried to speak to him and dissuade him - but he simply laughed and said that he had forgotten the 'passwords' for some of his accounts and could not recover them as he had forgotten too, which email account he signed them with; he was thinking of having a notebook in which he could keep track of the different Facebook accounts and the emails associated with each. As the Bloomberg presentation ended, I laid on my bed and before going to sleep, I thought: half-a-billion users. $50. Fifty billion dollars.