Facebook is a wonderful site, easily the biggest and most popular networking site on the globe. I should know, being just one addicted disciple of the website’s estimated 200million users. Primarily used to keep in contact with long lost loved ones, to chat and interact with friends or even to play games, the site has quickly grown to unimaginable levels and rendering college student creator Mark Zuckerberg a multi-millionaire many times over.
A new phenomenon has begun to rear its head lately however, one that has been getting greater amounts of mainstream media attention. The Facebook campaign. With its scores of users all in one place, people power has finally found a suitable forum on which to flex its considerable muscle, particularly taking full advantage of the sites ‘group’ section.
Whilst most of the groups are innocuous nonsense, sports related or personal in-jokes between friends, a greater number than ever before are political in nature and campaigning for or against certain objects, people or policies. A famous example of such power being executed was the re-introduction of the ‘Wispa’ chocolate bar into UK circulation a decade after declining sales caused its withdrawal. Cadbury’s stated that the unprecedented demand in a ‘Bring the Wispa back’ group was a valid enough reason for the move, instant sales suggesting the move was an inspired one.
Lately however more and more groups have come into the public consciousness for more nefarious reasons. There has already been protesting in the United States against Holocaust denial groups full of neo-nazi’s and Italy recently saw motions put forward in the parliament concerning pro-mafioso groups. The UK has not escaped this trend either, with a wide range of discriminatory groups full of hateful and in many cases illegal comments being shared. Despite Facebook claiming they have stringent laws against offensive groups, the fact remains the sheer numbers of users defeats them and the self-reporting tool is ineffective.
A quick search will bring up, in some cases, hundreds of results. Homosexuals are a popular target for no discernable reason with users spouting off endless insults, who when challenged admit they have never met a gay person yet still claim to hate them. The growing rise of the far right can also be attributed to its fanbase on Facebook, a breeding ground for racial discrimination. The far-right have always existed in the UK but have spent the majority of their time underground so to speak, away from the public eye and very hard for the random man on the street to get involved unless they are a thug, football hooligan or a jailbird. What Facebook has essentially done is bring Far-right politics and its controversial messages directly to the homes of susceptible people who otherwise would never be infiltrated with the vile messages of the fascist organizations.
A fine example of a group growing exponentially thanks to this new form of direct marketing is the English Defence League, who have powered into public consciousness in the last twelve months thanks to their public protests and subsequent crowd trouble at inner city demonstrations. What would have previously been a private, secretive group mindful of outsiders is now plastered across Facebook, using ‘groups’ and ‘events’ to directly recruit members. Many other groups have become breeding grounds for online racial warfare between various races attacking others, each lie and myth spreading around the country like an extreme game of Chinese whispers and become fact in the eyes of an ignorant, uneducated generation that can only foster further hate and division in the community.
A greater worry is the camaraderie that is being built up on these groups of hate, contacts and friendships being created between like-minded people amazed to find an outlet for their controversial and previously shunned opinions. I’ll end with a word of warning which Denis MacShane, the Labour MP for Rotherham, stated to the Telegraph on April 23rd, 2009; “Websites like Facebook have unfortunately allowed people to come together in one space and say ‘there are people out there like me’. That is something that worries me greatly. For all the good social network sites do, they also allow people to express prejudice that in a civilized society should be kept under lock and key”. Well said Sir.