‘Slummies’ meet on Facebook

With the latest Internet craze to take the world by storm, all of this has now been made possible.

Facebook, described on its own site as "a social utility that connects you with the people around you", has fast become one of the leading digital social networking tools.

Founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, the site originated at Harvard University in the United States and was originally designed to put students on campus in touch with each other.

It has has since exploded and today claims to have 27 million users worldwide.

South African online trend watcher Tyler Reed said although it was difficult to put a number on the amount of people who use Facebook in South Africa, "our calculations put it at around 160000 ? fast approaching 200000".

Reed, chief strategist at the Johannesburg-based social media marketing company Younique, added: "The South African user-base grows at an average of 2000 to 3000 new users per day."

In the Eastern Cape, this Internet phenomenon has taken with students and special interest groups alike.

For instance, Facebook users can belong to "You Gotta Love Slummies". At 1607 members, this reflects how Facebook can be individualised and localised.

Here users can discuss various aspects of East London including Friesland Milk Bar's world-class milkshakes, the beauty of Nahoon Beach and the previous night's social scene at Numbers Dance Club.

At Rhodes University in Grahamstown, Facebook's popularity is also evident. The Rhodes network boasts 3577 members and students access the Facebook site over 700000 times per day, according to figures for March, supplied by the Rhodes IT department.

Rhodes student Kyle O' Hagan said that Facebook was more "interactive than e-mail" and "a lot more fun".

"It's really useful in a little community like Rhodes because it helps organise one's social life and at the same time saves airtime," added another "Rhodent", Rogan Kerr.

But some lawyers, students ? and parents ? yesterday raised concerns over the pitfalls of Facebook.

Some say that the privacy of Facebook users could be compromised ? even though there is a disclaimer on the Facebook website.

Lawyers the Dispatch spoke to warned that those who chose to divulge personal information on Facebook, did so at their own risk.

"I would keep my personal information close to my heart on a site such as this, as I've seen so much identity theft in the past," says Elna Smit of the Commercial Crime Unit in East London.

"A negative aspect of Facebook is that one might describe it as being slightly addictive. It can be a distraction from work," commented Sembene Hamilton, a first-year journalism student at Rhodes.

Parent and teacher Adele Pfiffner said that she had no problem with children using Facebook, as long as they were aware of the dangers it could pose.

Another parent of two teenagers emphasised concerns that Facebook could be addictive and inhibit teenage social skills. On the other hand, she acknowledged that technology was "the way of the future".

Parents needed to effectively monitor sites their children log onto, and actively get involved, she added.

"As with everything these days, everything in moderation."



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‘Slummies’ meet on Facebook