Wed, Jun 17, 2009
The Straits Times
Facebook: Set childish things aside

By Rueben Tan

WINSTON Churchill once said that eating words never gave him indigestion.

If anything, I hope that a certain female Singaporean teacher will be spared a tummy upset as she stomachs the furore over her poor taste in posting a note detailing grammatical errors by her students on Facebook. Snippets from their English essays had been posted ad verbum for her friends to join her in 'laughing at how creative students can be'.

Now that the laughter has died down, it might be good for us to pick up the pieces.

Like myself, I am sure that many a youth has thrown caution to the wind when it comes to Facebook, taking part in everything from random quiz applications to becoming fans of personalities as varied as Nominated MP Eunice Olsen and United States President Barack Obama.

Originally conceived as a platform for college students, official statistics document the fastest growing group of Facebook users to be those aged 35 and older.

Among them are tech-savvy parents as well as prospective employers scouring Facebook for information about their subjects.

Facebook is so pervasive now that potential scholarship applicants have been advised to maintain 'healthy' profiles in case scholarship officers dig up skeletons from their accounts.

My friends lament that the 'old guard' has staged a coup of sorts on the virtual domain of youth. Facebook will never be the same with baby boomers on board.

Pessimists might see this as stifling youthful expressionism and they are not entirely wrong. But if being cautious gives rise to responsibility, then there are benefits.

It is not uncommon for casual comments left on Facebook to be misconstrued by others, creating confusion at best and petty misunderstandings at worst.

Photos of misdemeanours after a night of drunkenness can be very incriminating, especially when faces can be tagged with names.

A friend who saw I had registered for the event, Bush's Last Day In Office, mistook my frivolity for questionable political activism.

Little is gained from flippancy and much is lost when one misplaces his responsibilities.

For that teacher, it was her work ethics. For us, it could be an unspoken obligation to uphold our school image or the family name.

If the teacher had instead posted constructive feedback for her students who had a poor grasp of English, I am sure the ensuing debate would have been advantageous for both her and them.

It was on Facebook that I watched President Obama's inauguration and decided to heed the call to 'set aside childish things'.

An apt ethos for Facebook perhaps?

The writer, 20, has a place to read law at NUS this year

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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