Facebook boob that serves as a lesson in netiquette to us all
NO CONTROL: The rise in social websites means we may be just a click away from untold humiliation
It was billed as Bebo for grown-ups; sensible adults were all set to join the new craze of becoming famous in their own cyber-world and looking up thousands of new 'friends', but it seems the dangers of Facebook are just the same as for its younger counterpart.
At least they are if you're a young, female election candidate trying to put forward your serious side for your potential voters, assuring them of your abilities to get local funding and deal with important political matters while your Facebook page has photos of you looking, well, slightly the worse for wear with a pal feeling up your boobs.
While the publicity surrounding the controversial picture (which has been removed from her page), won't do Newbridge Town Council hopeful Emma Kiernan any harm at all, and her glamorous image is bound to ensure she's 'poked' hundreds of times, isn't there a danger for all of us in having so much information about ourselves out there in a virtual world over which we have virtually no control?
Anyone possessing any compromising photo or information about you can put it up on the internet, out of context, and invite others to have a look and comment freely. You mightn't even know they've done it until someone (like a nice family newspaper) comes and tells you.
With an estimated 200m active users, Facebook is a global phenomenon with humble beginnings as an Ivy League college networking site, which today is valued at around €5bn. There have always been privacy issues surrounding it but because the users are generally more mature than other social networking sites, it wasn't considered as much of a problem.
However, two students managed to download 70,000 member profiles in a 'data mining' exercise leading to concerns that companies would go consumer shopping on the site.
Facebook also ran into difficulty after it was realised that people could never entirely delete their entry, especially the embarrassing photos and comments they might have uploaded while a happy-go-lucky student, but which were proving awkward at job interviews. Only last year did Facebook write the software to allow permanent deletion of pages in response to the criticism. It has become very easy for employers to check sites and find out about applicants' private lives before meeting them face to face. Students can post comments on teachers' sites; disgruntled employees on managers'. It's no longer reliable to believe that being a party-girl, getting pie-eyed at the weekend won't be discovered by your boss after a less than flattering account, in full technicolour, is posted on the net. It doesn't even have to be your own page, just someone who thinks it's a bit of a laugh.
The power of the social networking phenomenon has long been realised by savvy politicos too -- eager for the 'young' vote. There was an outcry in Iran after Facebook was unceremoniously shut down last weekend by the government, preventing reform candidate Hossein Mousavi from reaching out to thousands of disaffected voters via his page.
However, all it takes for anyone, anywhere, is to have an old picture of themselves posted in an unflattering or off-putting situation which can cause untold embarrassment -- even career suicide -- and it's all entirely outside your control.
It's impossible to find a solution, especially as such sites are expanding in popularity. Who knows (especially at 18 or 20 years of age) what they're going to be doing in five or ten years' time? Could something like Facebook signal the end of your reputation?
None of us can be entirely sure what a giddy friend snapping photos while we're at a party could say about us in the future. We've all been in situations we'd rather forget: A humiliating story, an old flame, a bully from school -- they're all potential disaster areas.
There might be etiquette about such things in real life, but the rules of 'netiquette' are not so clearly defined.