By Kat Vella
My father worked for what is now called Border Force but what was formerly known as Customs up until five years ago. The various crimes and shady individuals he encountered throughout his career influenced him to raise me and my sisters to be reserved with new acquaintances and to be unapologetically suspicious of the internet.
It was for this reason that I didn’t take to the internet immediately. While my friends were enthusiastically chatting with unknowns on ICQ, or curating their My Space sites, I was still reluctant to email. I started using Facebook ten years after its inception and have closed down the account five times in the ten years I have had it. So suffice it to say, I was a fish out of water when it came to understanding its power for journalism.
Then in 2010, Facebook and other social media platforms took centre stage in the beginnings of the Arab Spring which swept like wildfire across northern Africa and the Middle East. My ears then pricked up. What was I missing here?
Take the Egyptian Revolution in 2011. People, particularly young people organised themselves in massive social movements and they did it at a speed never before seen in human history, thanks in part to social media. Images, videos and sound blasts of emotion-charged information about police brutality and the thousands of people who were filling public spaces across the country, filled people’s screens all over the world. What my parent’s generation lived with the media presence in the Vietnam War leading to the publication of horrific images of the aftermath of Agent Orange, millennials were doing themselves with their phones, Facebook accounts and internet access.
The light bulb finally flicked on. Facebook was a way to share information about issues that I was passionate about. The environment, Feminism, human rights, cultural diversity all become a prominent feature of the things I started to share and talk about on Facebook. I stopped looking at Facebook as essentially an online photo album and started using it to connect with people and communities that were engaged in the issues that I felt were defining my generation and the world.
Then everything changed.
Facebook went public in 2012 and this set off a chain of events that sent my father’s cautionary words about the internet into a repeating loop in my head. Continual mistakes with privacy settings and the public sharing of personal user information from the administrative end, facial recognition technology, a never ending news feed and then the monster mess up of the US election interference by Cambridge Analytica. Facebook proved time and time again it couldn’t stay ahead of the big threats to personal, national and international information safety.
And so in 2017, for the fifth time, I closed my Facebook account.
Since deciding to explore a career in journalism I have obviously been faced with a challenging dilemma: Is Facebook a necessary evil? I have asked myself if it is indeed even possible for a journalist to stay relevant and effective without using Facebook. I don’t know the answer yet.