Gawker has determined that Facebook beat out Google and Twitter in the race to have the “dumbest” users in 2011. To take this idea seriously, we need to put aside the fact that Google isn’t a social network like Twitter and Facebook, that Twitter is a very different social network than Facebook, and that many people (myself included) use all three of these services. The interesting thing here is that Facebook appears to be in a race to the bottom with its content, particularly among its teen users.
I have a teenage daughter, and the difficulty of being a teen girl in the western world is manifested plainly in the content she and her friends post on Facebook. Looking at one of these accounts is like stepping into a world dominated by narcissism (observed as hundreds of self-oriented pics in every situation and the details of every event and emotion that registers long enough to write it down), petty bickering, public insecurity, and a purposeful rejection of social norms demonstrated as profanity, inappropriately sexual photos, and friending much older males. My daughter has been guilty of all of this at some point, as have most of her friends. My wife and I engage in periodic discussions over whether we should just take away Facebook as too harmful for her. We’ve done this in the past and she has gone to great lengths to create secret accounts and find other ways of getting her Facebook fix. I think we’re currently at an impasse.
We have collectively been having a low-intensity discussion about the usefulness of various social networks and the benefit/harm ratio of using them for different groups, but this discussion needs to be more prominent given how many resources, temporal and otherwise, are devoted to these social networks by a large number of people, many of them children.
The links below give you a taste of what I’m talking about.