Sunday, June 6, 2010

Opening the Digital Window

Bangladesh lifted it's ban on Facebook this weekend. The ban had been ordered after Facebook had featured links to an online competition to draw the prophet Mohammad. According to Islamic law, all representations of the Prophet are blasphemous.

However Bangladeshi lawmakers rescinded the ban over the weekend after Facebook removed the objectionable images.

In the meantime a California woman whose children had been missing for fifteen years used the social networking site to track them down in Florida. The children, aged two and three at the time, had been abducted by their father back in 1995.

The mother was able to locate the kids by searching her daughters name on Facebook and then contacting her through her profile.

These incidents perhaps demonstrate the two sides of the coin when it comes to Facebook and it's much criticized privacy practices. If computers are the houses we dwell in digitally, then social networking sites like Facebook can be considered the windows. Our privacy settings then, are sort of like the blinds or the curtains. Just how far we choose to leave them open is largely up to us.

Computers and the Internet have globalized the world as never before. The openness and free-flowing nature of the Web has created an environment where a woman who might never have seen or heard of her children twenty years ago, can now find out just about everything about them.

But let us not forget that in 2005 a Danish cartoonist's caricature of the prophet Mohammad ignited international outrage and cries for Jihad. The nature of the Internet, and user-generated content sites like Facebook, mean such events are likely to occur again and again.

With Facebook under fire in recent weeks and the public backlash against it growing, the incident with the missing children being found in Florida perhaps reminds us what's so great about computers, the Web and social networking in the first place.

Computers have shrunk the world. Obviously there are many advantages to this. However when one travels as quickly down the information superhighway as we all have in the last fifteen years, there are bound to be some speed bumps.

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