This week marks the 15th birthday of Facebook. If you don’t think that’s a local event, think again. As many as two-thirds of us use the social media app everyday. Some people even keep it open all day and the average use is one hour daily. Keep in mind lots of these same people also use Instagram, which happens to be owned by Facebook.

Rollie Atkinson Column Photo

Rollie Atkinson

So, happy birthday Facebook. It was “born” on Feb. 4, 2004 in Mark Zuckerburg’s Harvard University dormitory room. The social-networking computer program was created to help students find dates, share calendars and maybe cheat on exams. Since then Facebook hasn’t done much else except changed how we communicate, sacrificed our privacy, hacked our elections, altered the experience of growing up and, quite possibly, redefined humanness.

And to all that, do we really want to send out our best wishes? People are admitting they are addicted to it and the Facebook company lately has suffered lots of backlash for violating privacy promises and for enabling Russian hackers.

Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president has said, “it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other ...  It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” As you might guess, Parker is no longer with the company.

Like man-made inventions and machines before it, Facebook and other computer-controlled mass communication programs possess powers and controls that are truly life-altering. These unprecedented powers can work for both good and evil. Unfortunately, these powers can even overpower their maker and even all of mankind.

The inventions of dynamite and electricity changed society and the world. The splitting of the atom was a moment when man unleashed unimaginable powers that could either modernize electric utilities or be used to blow up the world. Now we are splitting human genes to create laboratory-defined babies.

These are all examples, including Facebook, when man’s inventions grow beyond his control. Whether it be a wheel, a carved hand tool or a computer-based network, these all change us.

Studies now show that episodes of anxiety, depression, insecurity and suicide increase among our youth the more they dwell on social media. Our children prefer texting to face-to-face interaction, according to another study.

Can we blame them? We now have pocket devices to talk to a million people at once (Twitter.) We can call for a ride (Uber) or order food. We always know where to find our friends and they know how to find us. Privacy doesn’t matter anymore, we guess.

It’s funny. We outlawed telemarketers but we invite Facebook and Google to follow us everywhere and tell us what to believe or buy.

Now 15 years old, can we expect Facebook to ever grow up and act more responsibly? So long as the $600 billion corporation exists to make a profit by manipulating us and selling our profiles to advertisers, we doubt it. If we called television a “boob tube,” what should we call social network platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Google and Snapchat? How about “portable cages?”

Wouldn’t it be great to wake up in the morning and not get push alerts, pop-ups, spam messages, “friend” requests from strangers, fake news, Amazon teasers or a Trump tweet?

Will Facebook last as long as television or get replaced like the telegraph? Remember MySpace? Will Facebook outlast newspapers or help kill them?

There are early calls in Congress and elsewhere to add government regulations over Facebook. That hasn’t worked for other electronic media where a few giant corporations (FOX, Disney, AT&T, Alphabet, Viacom and Comcast) control our cable, satellite and TV content, internet access and monthly rates.

Instead of blowing out Facebook’s birthday candles, maybe we should just blow it off and delete our accounts. Fat chance.

— Rollie Atkinson

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