Friday, 14 January 2011

Facebook comes of age


FB is now more than just a social media for the young. It is also a meeting ground for all – fathers, mothers, actresses, superstars and, especially, crooks.

A NEW survey found that 12% of parents punish their kids by banning social networking sites. The other 88% punish their kids by joining social networking sites themselves.

This was what a colleague put on his Facebook status recently. He probably put it up in jest, but for me it was so poignant because like him, we are probably as active, if not more active, than our teenage children on the popular social network.

Although most of us replied in equal jest on his Facebook page, I could not help a quick stocktaking of the truth of the status comment.

When Times’ Man of the Year Mark Zuckerberg put together Facebook for the clever students at Harvard, he did it for the young crowd. And when he started taking it to cybersphere, he also wanted to attract teenagers.

There are now 550 million users on Facebook, which Zuckerberg supposedly founded eight years ago when he was just a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard.

Time magazine, in its report on Zukerberg being chosen as its man of the year, noted that “one out of every dozen people on the planet has a Facebook account.

“They speak 75 languages and collectively lavish more than 700 billion minutes on FB, as its users affectionately call it, every month. Its membership is currently growing at a rate of about 700,000 people a day”.

These statistics are astounding, especially when you consider that 70% of FB users are from outside the United States. We in Malaysia are among the major users – records show that more than 9.5 million Malaysians now hold a Facebook account of whom 45% are male and 51% female. The rest did not state their gender.

The growth rate for FB in Malaysia has really been tremendous. In 2009, we recorded a growth rate of over 300% from just over 450,000 users a year before to 3.9 million. By last December, this figure exploded to 9.5 million. And yet we are only number four in Asia.

“Today, there are over 32 million Indonesians using Facebook. The Philippines is behind Indonesia, with over 18 million, followed by India (16.9 million), Malaysia (9.5 million) and Taiwan (8.7 million),” reports GreyReview which studies tech and social media trends.

This got me thinking about why I got into Facebook. I can’t even remember exactly when I signed up for a FB account, but it was in 2008. It was for a very good reason – my son and daughter (aged 15 and nine then) were thinking of signing up. I just wanted to know why they were doing it.

After all, we have read horror stories of fiends and monsters lurking in Cyberspace to prey on the young ones. I just wanted to be there in case these beasts hang around Facebook.

At first, I approached it like a cautious father, checking out every possibility of how corrupting FB could be. Then I realised the joy of connecting with colleagues and how it allowed me to carry out some “innocent fun” – posting naughty messages on people’s walls.

I started collecting friends and it became a race with my colleagues to see who could get more. At present, I have 1,173 friends, but like most Malaysians I doubt I know 70% of them personally.

Instead of the kids being lured into the deep by the “evils of Facebook”, it was I who became addicted. I found it such a stress reliever, although quite time-consuming and quite distracting from the real world.

I now understand why many companies ban their staff from getting on to their FB accounts in the office, but as a user I dare say that it has become an important networking and communication tool.

Banning FB in the office is another act of denial because with 550 million people into it, businesses would do better to get on board to see what the fuss is all about. It is estimated that FB and Zuckerberg raked in some US$2bil (RM6.1bil) last year.

Anyway, my policing of the kids’ cyber use, especially on FB, has come to naught. Rather, the three of us are “friends” in each other’s FB pages and we use our accounts to pass each other messages, especially those we don’t want their mother to read.

I would say FB has enabled the three of us to share a bond, especially since I spend more than 15 hours a day away from the house.

As a journalist, I have had many reliable tip-offs for stories via Facebook, especially from new found friends and as well as from old ones re-established via this network.

I have also made great friends through Facebook. A bunch of us who are all golfers have become close pals, poking fun at each other or springing some pranks at the slightest opportunity.

Yes, there are also some nasty people on FB. A friend of mine who had just moved back to his hometown of Kuching, had his account hijacked by an evil person located in Thailand.

This dastardly person tried to trick me into sending him some money using my friend’s FB identity. Luckily, my friend alerted me in time.

This taught me a lesson and I now change my FB password every three weeks or so.

Then a few days ago, I had a strange request from someone wanting to be added as a friend. This person claimed to be former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra. This person even tried to chat online with me, saying he was indeed Thaksin and was now in Moscow.

When I put his claim as a link, he immediately “unfriended” me and blocked me from his Facebook page. I have either thwarted a crook or missed the opportunity of a lifetime to interview this elusive politician.

Whatever it is, Facebook is a modern trend that will probably be replaced by something else in the next few months but till then it has shrunk the world tremendously and our distances just got a lot smaller.

> The Star Executive Editor Wong Sai Wan’s favourite Facebook application used to be the Word Twist game, but now likes uploading pictures straight from his Blackberry.

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