Regardless of whether one participates or not, there is no denying the significant impact that online social networking sites, such us MySpace and Facebook, are having on America’s younger generations. These trends are duly noted in Alice Mathias’s New York Times feature, “The Fakebook Generation” and Dana Fleming’s New England Journal of Higher Education article, “Youthful Indescretions: Should Colleges Protect Social Network Users from Themselves and Others? Though both writers agree on the significance of these types of sites, their views differ greatly as to the impact the sites are having on America’s youth. Two important factors as to why the writers’ views differ so greatly are their background and the genre in which they are expressing their opinions. Mathias is a young woman who is about to graduate college, blogging about her experiences and opinions on Facebook as a student. Her blog comes across as a carefree commentary on one aspect of college life.
At this stage in her life Mathias views “…Facebook as online community theater,” (438) an online site that gives young people the opportunity to masquerade and manipulate their profiles, allowing their Facebook friends to see as much or as little of their lives they choose. Fleming, on the other hand, is a well educated, practicing attorney, whose life and occupational experiences have, undoubtedly, compelled her write an article informing educators about the dark side of online social networking sites, such as Facebook. Her article comes across also as a commentary, but one with a serious undertone and message.
Both writers agree that the appeal of these sites seems to be primarily with the under 30 generation. Mathias believes this to be true because “My generation has long been bizarrely comfortable with being looked at…” (439) and in her evaluation, the situations people are allowing themselves to be seen in on their sites range anywhere from the mundane, to the unflattering, to the explicit, and to the downright ridiculous. These displays, Mathias admits, are often thoughtless, but no mention is made of possible consequences that could arise as a result of these postings.
This, in turn, is the meat of Fleming’s article. The fact that “…students’ online identities and friendships come at a price, as job recruiter, school administrators, law enforcement officers, and sexual predators sign on and start searching. ” (440) Both writers point out the fact that many students accept numerous friend requests from total strangers, and yet what Mathias does not mention, and what Fleming does, is that when “friending” someone, the student is opening up their personal pages and exposing themselves to potentially damaging situations.
Fleming’s article is full of documented cases in which site users have been expelled from colleges, lost scholarship and employment opportunities, damaged their reputations, and tragically, have been the targets of heinous crimes, all because of their online activities. Fleming uses these examples to emphasize to educators, that when it comes to protecting a students’ privacy, sites such as Facebook should be “…subject to the school’s code of conduct and applicable state and federal laws. (443) Apparent in the Mathias blog, a students’ greatest fear is not that of losing opportunities, defamation of character, or bodily harm, their greatest fear is losing anonymity. “If our ability to privately search is ever jeopardized, Facebook will turn into a ghost town. ” (439) In turn, Fleming points out “…loss of anonymity carries a cost. ” (441) This cost has the potential to be greater than the embarrassment of someone finding out one has been obsessively looking at another’s site.
According to her blog, and also stated in Fleming’s article, most students are aware that these sites do offer a variety of security settings. The facts seem to be that, few students do not put in the time or effort it takes to make their sites truly secure, nor do they seem to acknowledge the fact that online privacy is nothing short of an oxymoron. For this reason, Fleming comments on a variety of programs and policies across America that are intended to take over what students are failing to do, safeguard the students’ privacy and well being.
What Mathias comments on, is dismay that the older generation may take away the temporary forum that give students their outlet from reality, and not realize that, inevitably, these students will mature and networking sites will become more about what their original intent was, “…a legitimate social reference guide. ” (439) The difference in these two writers’ views appears to be influenced by the generation gap. Mathias’ views are based on her own personal experience as a current college student, and Facebook user.
Her perception of the site is that of a harmless means of distraction for students who will eventually move on to other things. Fleming’s focus is more of the protector, rather than participant. She sees Facebook and similar sites as potentially damaging to a students’ future. It seems as though, through simply not acknowledging certain aspects of these sites and the effect they have on students, Mathias’ blog is helping to make Fleming’s case.