Brian Lewis, known as Charlie is a pretty normal guy. He’s 31, works in a factory, lives in New Tredegar, Wales. Today, he stood in a dock, facing a Crown Court Judge as he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering his girl friend of 13 years for changing her Facebook status from “In Relationship” to “Single”.
One may ask how can you call someone who is willing to take a life for such a simple thing normal? Personally I feel we should be asking a far more pertinent question. Is it right that so much of our personal life is played out within a very public domain like Facebook? Has the wonderful world of the Internet reached a stage where it is actually entering into our very private daily life in a very unhealthy way?
I’ve written before about the amount of personal information that we put out into the public domain, and the safety of doing so. But as I’ve sat thinking about the wonderful world of social media, I’ve also began to wonder if it is an unhealthy addiction that enters our lives quietly without informing us of its powerful captivation over us. I know of many people that go into mental melt down if they cannot access their Facebook for a day. They make all kinds of excuses about replying to messages, needing to be up to date, or even playing out their relationships online for the whole world to see. These are the excuses that one would expect to find if you’re working with treating alcoholics or drug addicts. They to have a mental dependency on getting their next fix, and make almost any excuse to justify their craving in their minds eye. Ask yourself just how able you are to live without your internet connection to your world of social media attention.
It is somewhat scary to watch a whole new trend of crimes unroll as people who are emotionally scared and unable to deal with their mental condition find themselves being confronted by the reality that part of their lifestyle is being lived and played out in front of dozens of their friends and family. The sanctity of privacy seems to be a thing of the past. We are all aware at how cruel people can be, frequently jumping to conclusions at a comment, statement or status when they clearly have no idea of the context, reason nor issues surrounding someone having put that information on their profile in the first place. How frequent is it that vicious rumours and gossip rush round our circle of friends based solely on something someone has seen on a Facebook or Myspace profile. I am almost certain if you really looked into it, comments about Caster Semenya originated somewhere on an Internet forum or chat room. I have no proof of this, but it is easily a conclusion that one can jump to based on our daily experience of living our lives through Social Media.
One of the biggest worries of this trend is the fact that our children live in this wonderful cyber world of ours. When we see adults being unable to deal with the harsh realities of living in the public eye, we have to pause for a moment and wonder what kind of effect living in this realm is having on our children. Bridgend recently became known as rope central after an alarming number of teenagers committed suicide. After intense debate it was agreed that the press and its big mouth were partly to blame for sensationalising each death and making it seem for desperate children that it was one way of making sure that their story was heard. It became a weekly occurrence to turn on the radio, sit down to watch the news or open a newspaper and see or hear about how the tragic life of yet another of our precious young people was being dredged through by the police, desperate to find a link for the cause of such a spate of child suicides. Personally I believe that Social Media has an awful lot to do with it too. Both across the US and the UK it is a common denominator in many crimes associated with children that the internet has played some part in either prompting their action or leading to their feeling of social isolation that leads them to despair and destruction.
History is littered with the lives of loved ones who have died because of the crime of passion. It is not a new thing for us to be reading about murder and suicide by people who have been scorned or dealt a bitter pill along the road of love and romance. People are often pushed to extremes when dealing with love. Hell I’ve even felt this myself. Breaking up is one of the hardest things to do. It leaves you dealing with emotions that I have to admit left me feeling empty, worthless, and craving the quiet solitude of death. But I am afraid of death. And personally I can honestly say that I have never had to play out any of my relationships in a public arena such as Facebook, Myspace or any such social media website. I have had to deal with seeing a public profile status changed from “spoken for” to “single” and felt the cutting despair that goes with realising that someone you loved and invested so much of your time in, is now seeking for another liaison. I can gratefully say that I’ve never had to watch the status updates and the sarcastic comments that I do see flying around on other peoples profiles as they live out their lives on Facebook, in my own break ups. That doesn’t make me any better than anyone on Facebook, just lucky that I have never had to deal with the cause and effect that such hurtful statements and comments must have on the soul.
It is all too easy to get it wrong online. Reading things out of context, drawing the wrong conclusion or making the wrong interpretation of what someone says is all too easy when trying to guess exactly what they mean. Without body language, tone, pitch and an idea of what the person we are communicating with is really trying to express when they say something, or we read a comment, that in all honesty could mean anything at all, we are shooting in the dark. I also think that it is too easy for someone to remove the emotional content of a difficult decision and create a clinical almost sterile situation of black and white. Problem being that life is not black and white. It is made up of a multitude of tones of grey. By removing the hard part of breaking someone’s heart, issuing a body blow in mental terms, letting someone down, we tend to think we are safe from emotional hurts ourselves. Breaking up by text message, or using your online status as a method of hurting someone in an argument is not a brilliant way of avoiding the fall out of your decisions. Accepted, using these tools as a means of hurting someone does not give licence for anyone to use violence as an acceptable means of retaliation, but let’s be honest, when we fall under the pressure of how we are viewed by our peers, maybe the added pressure of an emotional break up on top of the public humiliation of being the centre of people gossip is enough to bring out an almost Schizophrenic reaction.
As human beings we are all so caught up in our own world of emotional ups and downs, trying to survive, communicate with family and friends, that there is a school of thought that asks who really cares about what they see on Facebook anyway? In some circumstances I would tend to agree with this. Let’s assume that we are logged out of Facebook for anywhere upwards of ten hours a day anyway, which means there is a multitude of information that we miss on a daily basis, and unless you are so heavily addicted to Social Media that you spend hours trawling through the updates that you have missed while you are away from your terminal, in which case I would sincerely suggest to you that you seek professional help. So considering that we miss huge amounts of information that is posted to Facebook, I would agree that we are more than likely going to just scan over the massive expanse of information we see posted to each person’s profile without generally paying much attention to it. There are people that we discount immediately, the prolific posters, they type that seem to just post anything that they come across online, trying to show that they have a massive ability to review and take in huge amounts of information. I personally have found that these people don’t have a clue what they are posting, assuming that people actually want to read their links, ultimately finding that they constant drivel of information has been blocked from view on the greater number of profiles linked to their online presence. Yes we do at times like to have our attention pointed in a specific direction, but with all due respect we are quite able to search for content online that interests us without having someone search it for us. It’s clear that such prolific posters fall short of what I would call interesting profiles that I would seek to engage with more.
However, while by being polite we put up with the pointless posting of links we have no interest in visiting, or just block the systematic overload of “I’m posting, I’m posting, look at me” desperation that becomes the norm for some people, we do tend to pay attention when a post appears that shows that people we are linked to are going through something that either we relate to, or something we are interested in. Let’s be very blunt, as a human race we tend to pay attention to other peoples pain and disappointment with a keen and critical eye. It is a fact of life that I believe each of us sitting reading this post can easily admit to ourselves. We thrive on other peoples pain and disappointment. When celebrities fall short of their near perfect position that we place them on, we take comfort in their very public humiliation. Part of me says that if they wish to live their lives in the public eye then the fact of their public humiliation should be part of what celebrities expect, but that is a very different argument for another post sometimes altogether. What is of importance is that when it comes down to it, it’s when we notice a post on someone’s profile that points to a hiccup in their lives, we are only human in paying more attention to this fact. Proof of this pudding stands to fact that when a friend of mine told me that their relationship with a certain individual was over, I pointed out that I didn’t believe it, as their Facebook profile still declared them as being in a relationship. At the time we were out on a drive, and when my friend updated his profile through mobile access, I was amazed at the number of text messages that came flooding through, after the simplest of changes to one’s online status.
It’s one thing as an individual who is going through a tough time in a personal relationship to receive messages of comfort or support. It’s another thing altogether when those messages might innocently be a jibe or retort to someone who is unable to bare the effects of said personal upset. A judge, jury and executioner it’s easy to sit here and say, oh but as an adult we should be able to deal with such emotions, and get help when we can’t. But the realities of life are not so black and white. Personally, I don’t believe that it is of importance what someone’s status is, and I don’t think that it should even be a set criteria on someone’s profile. It is through communication and discussion with someone that we meet that such questions should be answered. While Social Media is a wonderful thing, and yes we are able to sit back in our own busy world and see what is taking place in the lives of people that we don’t take enough time to communicate on a one to one basis with. It’s a fantastic tool when we travel to let our friends know what we are doing and the sites and experiences that we undertake on our travels. I do however think that it is an unhealthy presence in our lives when our day to day personal affairs are played out in a public forum for the whole world to draw conclusions from, make assumptions about, and comment accordingly. I honestly think that there is a limit to what should be in the public domain and what should not be. And so while it is so tragic that Tracey Grinhaff, Sarah Richardson, Hayley Jones and Megan Meier have been so hurtfully taken from this world by people fuelled with hate, hurt and frustration, I do think that there is a very valuable lesson that we should all be learning from these circumstances. Don’t allow their deaths to go past in vain and remain ignorant and blind to the effects of the Social Media reality. Don’t let their sacrifice be in vain and continue to be a victim of circumstance. Stand up for yourself and draw a line. You have the right to privacy, we all do. Choose what is and is not to be put out into the public arena for the world to look at. Value your right to privacy and learn that information is a weapon that can be used for good and evil. When taken out of context and without the realisation that with every action there is a reaction, and sometimes when dealing with human emotion that reaction can be excessive and go overboard, information can be our worst enemy. Let’s be mature, responsible and realistic about what is right and what is wrong. As I’ve said, Social Media is a wonderful thing, but it’s a big bad world when Facebook Turn’s Bad.