Facebook suicide: is it your time?

By: Georgina Harris

Date: 15 June 2011

GuncomputerGeorgina Harris reveals the growing trend for grown-ups to switch off – and why it could help your career

Always a reliable source of new fashions, the latest craze in social networking is… walking away. May 2011 figures saw over 100,000 Facebook users in the UK deactivate their accounts –six million US users also left, never to return.

Site monitors Inside Facebook revealed that despite vast growth in developing countries, newbies worldwide are holding back – just 11.8 million new users joined in May, down from 13.9 million users in April. Countries such as the UK, the US, Canada and Russia, with their millions of veteran Facebook fans, are starting to lose their user base with a wealth of site deregistrations, or Facebook suicides. Why?

Industry experts have a simple answer: adulthood and the right to privacy. But Facebook doesn't agree, which is the nub of the problem. This month, for example, UK Facebook introduced face-recognition software that checks online photos and suggests who they might be – identifying the site’s users without their permission.

Now if you’re on someone else’s page and sporting a bikini or less, Facebook will try and identify you with a name tag. Even committed tech fans wince a bit at this latest cleverness - Will Heaven, assistant comment editor at The Telegraph, blogged: “That midnight skinny dip at the Majorca beach party was a laugh – but there’s no need to share it with your boss.”

Being broadcast peacefully asleep in a phonebox dressed as a chicken is funny for teenagers at 15, and funny for everyone at 70. But most of us of working age want to control who sees the joke. Risks to professional integrity, and more, are obvious. Legally, cases of unwise and absent-minded social networking, whether it’s a snap of a small swimsuit or a small snap at a client, are growing too fast to ignore.  

Facebook has defended itself, saying the software only offers tags with ‘high confidence’ that the names are the right ones. That just makes it worse if you’re frantically denying owning a chicken suit.  

Various privacy groups are petitioning the EU for restrictions on how social networking sites use, gather, and publish information on people’s private lives. But until the law changes, many users aren’t pleased. Earlier last week, when Facebook admitted the photo-tagging software had launched, one grumpy ex-user Tweeted: “Facebook switches on facial recognition by default, without telling anyone. Not cool. On any level, why would you trust that site? Glad I left.”

People over 25 now realise that the 20 hours they spend a month on Facebook Walls probably aren’t anything like as bad for their career as Facebook itself broadcasting their private moments to passing clients and colleagues. Could it be that those who take their work seriously have one new option – user-generated discontent?

Georgina Harris, Law Donut editor

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