Facebook Backlash: Anti-Social Sites Flourish
SCOTT SIMON, host:
These days there seems to be an online set for everyone who wants to make friends in cyberspace - MySpace, Facebook, Friendster. There's a library club for book lovers, LinkedIn for businesspeople, Twitter for the compulsive blogger - and of course Club Penguin for grade school students. There's also a new, more sinister breed of online sites that aren't about trolling for friends. They're places to vent contempt - sites like EnemyBook, HateSpace and Snubster.
Steve Johnson is the Internet critic for the Chicago Tribune. He joins us from our studios in Chicago. Mr. Johnson, thanks for being with us.
Mr. STEVE JOHNSON (Chicago Tribune): It's my pleasure.
SIMON: Is there anything funny about these sites?
Mr. JOHNSON: If you look at the sites closely and how they actually work in real life, there's a large proportion of it that is actually sort of mocking the idea of Friendster and Facebook and MySpace - this idea that we're all one big happy community. It's a reaction to the sort of forced cheeriness of those sites.
SIMON: So in some ways it might be an elaborate, collaborative satire?
Mr. JOHNSON: I think at its best it is that. You know, if you look at - for instance, with EnemyBook, which also exists as an application within Facebook, if you look at the top enemies on the list, they're all sort of political figures. It's a way for people to identify their prejudices. You know, George Bush is up there on top. Hillary Clinton has a very high number of enemies. It's a - yeah, I think collaborative satire is a very good term for it.
SIMON: There's obviously got to be some concern, given the tragedy of 13-year-old Megan Meier, which has been, as you know, linked to an online hoax that was perpetrated through MySpace.
Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah, certainly there is...
SIMON: And people who might not know it's a joke.
Mr. JOHNSON: Right. And there are people who take, you know, EnemyBook and actually use it to identify their enemies and call them out. And we do have to be careful of that, because as any of us who's been the receiving end of a vitriolic email has seen, there's something about the Internet that I think gives people license to, you know, let these sort of dark angels of their nature out.
SIMON: Should a parent be concerned if they find out their child is on one of these sites?
Mr. JOHNSON: You know, it's all about context. If it's being used in the right way and as a - as a way to make these sites a little more interesting and a little more interactive. Then I think it's, you know, it's no - no harm, no foul.
SIMON: We're entering a phase in which legislation is being considered for the Internet by people who, must be said, are alarmed about the nature of some of the communication, alarmed about the effect on children and others, proposals to make online bullying a crime, certainly in response to the Megan Meier case. Could this affect the perception of legislators as to what some of these sites are and what the nature of online communication is?
Mr. JOHNSON: It all kind of adds up, I think, in the minds of legislators. And it especially adds up because it's all filtered for them through a media that I think isn't necessarily wholly in there with these sites and interacting with them and understanding the kind of fuller context of what a Facebook is. So you get the report secondhand, and every bad thing tends to get magnified. And so the, you know, the legislation, I think, just human nature reacts to that. And an EnemyBook can feed right into that if a soulin' is not careful.
SIMON: Steve Johnson, Internet critic for the Chicago Tribune, thank you for being with us. By the way, our recording engineer, Parris Morgan, just added me to his EnemyBook list.
Mr. JOHNSON: There you go.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIMON: That was quick.
Mr. JOHNSON: You can get him back. It's very easy to do.
SIMON: Thank you, Mr. Johnson.
Mr. JOHNSON: My pleasure.
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