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Cyber-exhibitionists, cyber-voyeurs and Facebook Addiction Disorder

02 may 2013, 17:49
5

The more I get to know Almaty film maker Igor Tsai, the more I appreciate how perceptive he is for a 24-year-old.

I recently did a blog about Igor, who is Timur Bekmambetov’s main action-sequence coordinator, speaking to my Nazarbayev University students. Student Damir Doszhan took some nice photos of the event, but I also wanted video for the blog.

The video that Igor sent me was a nine-minute film that he co-produced with Sanzhar Madiyev about two Kazakh couples breaking up over Facebook. The link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77shJYkWpnM.

The film, which was produced seven months ago, hit home because I did a blog in February about a couple – the guy American, the girl Kazakh -- who broke up over Facebook. She had rejected his demand that she remove skimpy bikini photos of herself that generated lewd comments from male “friends.”

It was a truly stupid reason for breaking up, but it happened.

The story of the American and his girlfriend was real-life. Igor’s film about two Facebook break-ups is fiction, but he said it’s rooted in what has happened to many couples in Kazakhstan.

In addition to break-ups involving sexy photos on Facebook, there have been break-ups over one partner in a relationship being “tagged” in a photo with someone else, one partner “liking” someone else’s photos, and one partner commenting on someone else’s photos.

In fact, the couples who broke up in Igor’s film did so because of “likes” and comments.

I was so intrigued by the video that I asked Igor why he’d produced it.

Facebook’s threat to relationships “is a problem of our generation,” he replied – meaning today’s young people. The film both encapsulates the threat and serves as a warning to anyone who uses Facebook to be careful to prevent it from damaging or destroying their love stories.

Igor Tsai produced a video about Facebook’s threat to relationships. Photo by Damir Doszhan

Igor Tsai produced a video about Facebook’s threat to relationships. Photo by Damir Doszhan

Igor’s film reflects a problem that American psychologists have labeled Facebook Addiction Disorder.

This is a situation in which, to start with, a user becomes so obsessed with Facebook that he or she spends an inordinate amount of time using it and fretting about it.

Another telltale sign of Facebook Addiction Disorder is the sheer number of “friends” that some users have amassed, psychologists say.

The average number of Facebook friends per user is about 250 – and most truly are friends, according to data trackers. But some users have thousands of “friends” – and here I’m putting the word friends in quotation marks because there’s no way a user can have that many actual friends. Rather what he or she has in this case is strangers, not friends.

In fact, psychologists say an unmistakable sign of Facebook Addiction Disorder is when 80 percent or more of a user’s Facebook “friends” actually are strangers.

Other indications of Facebook Addiction Disorder are logging into Facebook the first thing in the morning, checking it just before sleeping, constantly updating your profile or status to get “likes” and comments, and fretting about how many “likes” or “comments” the photos you post on Facebook are generating.

New York clinical psychologist Michael Fenichel has done pioneering work in Facebook Addiction Disorder, and coined the term.

One of the most unhealthy facets of Facebook, he says, is that it reinforces exhibitionist and voyeuristic behavior.

An example of exhibitionist behavior is someone posting sexy photos of themselves on Facebook for all the world to see. (In the days before Facebook, the photos would have been in a photo album for family and friends only.)

Exhibitionists can’t wait to see how many “likes” and comments their photos generate, psychologists say. It’s a sexual-like turn-on.

Facebook voyeurs get their turn-on by leering at the sexy photos the exhibitionists post.

The classic definition of a voyeur was someone peeping at a woman through her bedroom window. An indication of how society considered such behavior deviant is that if a cop caught you doing it, he’d arrest you.

Today’s Facebook voyeurs can peep all they want with no danger of being caught. The exhibitionists play right into their hands. In fact, the two feed off each other.

Discussing Facebook Addiction Disorder with me the other day, an American professor friend  said: “Can you imagine having so little self-esteem that you think you have to validate yourself with ‘likes’ and comments on the photos you post on Facebook? It’s pathetic, really.”

Fenchel noted that Facebook’s home page and wall allow anyone to follow “every move, decision, feeling and random thought” of a Facebook user.

“This is the best possible recipe for significant (behavioral) addiction,” he concluded.

Fenchel and other psychologists have done a good job of defining the threat that Facebook poses to relationships. Now what should we do about it?

Here are some ideas:

First of all, think carefully before posting sexy photos of yourself that might upset your partner. Be equally as careful about letting someone else “tag” you in a photo with them. And also be careful not to hit the “like” button on a sexy photo or make a comment about it.

Even better, sit down with your partner and discuss the Facebook threat. Come up with guidelines about your behavior on Facebook that can prevent misunderstandings.

Now let me make a confession. I can use some of my own advice about preventing Facebook misunderstandings.

A few months ago, an acquaintance in the States – I’ll call him Taylor -- added to my Facebook wall two links to photos of Ukrainian and Russian women. That led to dozens of photos of attractive Slavic girls popping up on my wall every day.

Taylor and I had met while I was a Fulbright professor in Ukraine some years ago. He was in the country for a few weeks trying to find a Ukrainian wife.

Taylor, who ended up marrying a Russian rather than a Ukrainian woman, added the photo links to my wall without asking me, thinking I would enjoy the “hotties.”

I stupidly succumbed to the trap, hitting the “like” button on a number of photos. Some were of women fully dressed. Other photos, however, showed cleavage and even bare bottoms in thongs.

When I realized the damage that the “likes” – and even the sexy photos themselves – could do to a relationship, I took the links down.

My story illustrates how easy it is to get lured into relationship-damaging behavior on Facebook without thinking.

I’ve been a lot more careful since then. But Facebook’s threat to relationships continues to lurk like a cobra under a rock, coiled and ready to strike.

 


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