At its best, Facebook is a valuable Internet resource that provides a worthwhile public service.
It can allow families on different sides of the country, or the world for that matter, to stay in touch with each other and share the latest photos or videos of the grandkids — in a free and here-and-now manner via digital technology.
Or it is a useful tool for long-lost friends to reconnect with each other.
At its worst, however, Facebook is a medium that caters to the weak-minded of society and acts as an enabler for those who desire attention as they put every aspect of their lives on display for the entire Cyber World to behold.
The deplorable episode this week of a Cleveland man who shot an elderly retiree picking up aluminum cans, and then posted a video of the death on Facebook, highlights a dark side associated with Facebook and its relationship to even-darker human nature.
Certainly the case involving Steve Stephens, who committed suicide later in the week as police were closing in on him in Erie, Pennsylvania, is an extreme example of what can go wrong with Facebook.
Generally the role it plays in society is a benign one that does not lead to such terrible consequences — but those who depend on Facebook for their daily existence paint a troubling scenario all the same.
Right off hand, I can point to two people as examples of that, one a former co-worker of mine and the other a close family member who lives in Virginia.
The former co-worker craves attention like junkies lusting for their next fix. Every aspect of her daily routine is duly recorded on Facebook, which might explain why she has trouble holding down a job.
I would love to know how much Facebook fanatics such as her cost America’s businesses in wasted time spent posting stuff while on the job rather than working as they are paid to do. But that’s a topic for another day.
Usually, this person’s Facebook posts are pretty boring material, but every few days or so some mini-crisis seems to always occur in her life which she sees fit to announce to the world — aka her carefully cultivated legion of Facebook Friends.
No matter how personal or sensitive the crisis, it’s put out there for others to know as part of a well-orchestrated process. I say “well-orchestrated” because this alternatingly weak-minded and transparent individual knows full well that all her followers will immediately respond with their obligatory sympathetic and supportive comments.
Meanwhile, I don’t want to just pick on the former co-worker, as there is also my own family member who I mentioned.
She happens to be a young single mother of a son who is about 8 years old.
Her immersion into Facebook basically has the mission of creating and maintaining a shrine for anything the son does — videos of every Little League at bat, each trip to the pool, every birthday party and each and every school function in which he participates. I’m talking about hundreds of postings a year.
I can understand a person loving his or her child, but to me such behavior is obsessive to an alarming degree. Here again, an ego thing is involved, a need for attention.
Mental illness (including but not limited to an extreme desire to be noticed) was obviously an issue with Steve Stephens, the murderer who posted his act on Facebook Sunday.
He and his girlfriend had broken up last Saturday, something hundreds of couples probably do in the U.S. on a daily basis without incident.
Yet Stephens chose to handle his romantic problems by shooting poor Robert Godwin, 74, telling him on the video before pulling the trigger that “she (the girlfriend) is the reason that this is about to happen to you.”
It’s tragic enough that Stephens in his sick mind somehow blamed Mr. Godwin for his relationship issues.
But the fact he saw fit to post his act on Facebook entered a dimension that made it even more horrendous, as if doing so were some kind of vindicator or equalizer.
It’s like killing a man wasn’t enough, in the shooter’s mind this act had to be certified in some strange way which apparently could only be accomplished by having it seen by the public on Facebook.
I realize that Facebook itself is not to blame, but it does share at least some culpability by exploiting the weaker nature of society and those who frankly aren’t too tightly wrapped in the first place and serving as their unconditional forum.
Poetic justice would have occurred if some alert citizen had dashed up to Stephens’ car as he shot himself this week, then posted THAT on Facebook.
Tom Joyce is a staff writer for The Mount Airy News. He may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.