Whether you like it or not, whether you’ve joined or not, whether you think it’s a good or a bad thing, Facebook is here to stay and you’d better get used to it.
I don’t know for sure, but the best estimate I’ve seen suggests that about half of us in Botswana are on Facebook. Given our population’s youthfulness, that’s no surprise but us older-timers are also well represented. It’s also not just a toy for the affluent. The text-only versions of Facebook and the declining price of online data mean that anyone with a cellphone can be a Facebooker.
But still there are some people who are resistant. Some just have an aversion to technology while others seem to have a suspicion that Facebook brings with it threats to their way of life and that it offers nothing more than trivia, obscenity and offence.
I’ve got news for those people. That’s exactly what some people said about that internet in general. Before that people were saying it about the video recorder and television, before that about the telephone and the radio and going even further back in history, they said the same thing about newspapers and books.
And they were right. All of those things did indeed bring greater levels of risk but more importantly they all also brought even greater levels of education, openness, communication and understanding. All progress comes with an upside and a downside. However, almost always the benefits outweigh the risks and that’s particularly true of the internet and Facebook.
Facebook’s critics will say that the content is trivial, bizarre and offensive and again, that’s all true but isn’t that a bit like everyday life? Not every conversation we have with our friends, family and workmates is important. Most conversations are trivial, some are indeed bizarre and occasionally offensive.
But think of what Facebook offers us. Never before have half the entire population of our country been able to converse with one another so easily. Never before has it been so easy to chat to friends, relatives and workmates when they’re far from us. Never before has it been so easy to meet and grow to understand people different from us.
The problem with Facebook is that it’s a very good example of what the internet can be: largely out of control. You can understand Facebook best if you imagine it as being like a bar on a Friday night. A Friday night at the end of the month. Or, as someone suggested to me recently, a bar on a Friday night, at the end of the month and in a mining town. That’s what Facebook is like.
Normal people go to such a bar, or to Facebook, to have fun, hang out with their friends and meet new people but in doing so they become noisier, less diplomatic, less inhibited and a small proportion of them get aggressive and things can then turn nasty.
In the last two weeks, I’ve removed eighty-eight posts from the Consumer Watchdog Facebook group. Over the last few years, I’ve removed
I do my best on these occasions to be polite and inform the person who posted the offending item why I’ve removed it and some while ago had an online conversation with a very unhappy Facebooker who didn’t like me removing his post which I thought had defamed someone. But what I said was true, he said. That doesn’t matter, I told him. And it doesn’t. Something that’s true can still be defamatory, it’s not “for the public benefit that it should be published”. The details of someone’s private life are very rarely something for the public interest, despite how inquisitive we might be.
One of the real strengths of Facebook, something that’s relevant to consumers, is how it’s transformed the way in which consumers and suppliers communicate. Yes, if you’re short-changed, let-down or insulted by a store you should probably go see the manager and express your outrage face to face but the landscape has changed. You can now use Facebook to express your complaint. I know this irritates people who insist we need to complain the old-fashioned way but that’s just too bad. Times have changed. Welcome to the modern era.
We’ve been contacted many times by companies who are terrified about this new way of interacting. Our consumers post nasty things about us on Facebook, they tell me. So what are you going to do about, I ask? We don’t know, they confess.
At least they’re asking. At least they realise that they need to do something. Other companies we’ve spoken to have a very different approach. They adopt the same approach my children did when they were little. If they covered their faces they thought they became invisible. Well, peekaboo, that doesn’t work. Stores have a stark choice these days. Either listen to what your customers are saying on Facebook or ignore them. Yes, if you engage with them they might not always react well but of you refuse to talk to them they will always react badly. Always.
So get with it. I don’t know if Facebook will still be with us in ten years time but I know this. Something like Facebook will be. There will be an online conversation forum where your customers will be talking about you, sometimes saying nice things but much more often saying nasty things. Your choice is whether you want to listen to them or not. And perhaps even fix some problems and make yourself look good. Get used to it.