When I opened my laptop the other day and started my traditional newsgathering, I came across a disturbing story. Marine sergeant Gary Stein posted anti-Obama sentiments on his Facebook page and is now facing an "other than honorable discharge" from the military. This case raises a lot of questions. Do military officials have the right to criticize his or her commander-in-chief? Does being in the military mean sacrificing your First Amendment right to freedom of speech? Should a marine sergeant receive an "other than honorable" discharge just for something he posted on Facebook?
As a journalism student, any mention of possible denial of First Amendment rights instantly makes my ears perk up. However, my interest turned quickly to annoyance when I came across one word in the article: Facebook. I cannot recall how many times I have stumbled across a news story detailing a person's misuse of Facebook, especially when that person was not for whom Facebook was originally intended.
Facebook has become an incredible empire. The company just acquired Instagram, a photography social media network for $1 billion, and is valued at $100 billion as a whole. I think it is important to pause here and think. As the pioneer of social media networks with roughly 800 million members, Facebook affects a lot of us. I have a Facebook page and just about everyone I know does as well. However, it was not originally meant for all of us. In 2003, Mark Zuckerberg, an undergraduate student, created Facebook as an experiment in a Harvard University dorm room. The point of Facebook was to capture the social experience of college and put it online, specifically the social experience at Harvard. Facebook was technically created by a college student for other college students. Today, one seventh of the world population has a Facebook page. It has grown tremendously and, in some cases, has had horrifying consequences for people it was never meant to reach.
On January 2nd, 15-year-old Amanda Cummings stepped in front of an oncoming bus with a suicide note in hand and later died at a Staten Island hospital as a result of the collision. Cummings was a victim of bullying. She was ridiculed by a group of girls who used Facebook as a platform for comments and messages. To say the least, this was a gross misuse of the site by teenage girls for which it was not originally made. What is sad is there are so many stories like this.
I think it is time to reevaluate Facebook. Most stories we read concerning incidents, lawsuits or tragic endings involving Facebook usually concern people for whom Facebook was not made (i.e. anyone other than a college student). I suggest we take Facebook back to its intended purpose, and require a person to be enrolled in a college or university in order to be a member of the website. In my opinion, it is quite reckless of society to let minors have a Facebook because they are not adults, and Facebook, as we have seen in the media, has adult consequences.
As for Sgt. Stein, I agree with the Marine Corps' suggestion. Facebook was never intended to be a public forum for political views. It is a social media site and though we all might be guilty of misusing it from time to time, we need to take it back to basics. This means catching up with old friends, posting funny YouTube videos and reminiscing about the weekend. If we, as a global community, are not responsible enough to use Facebook, then maybe it is time to deactivate our account.
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