Facebook itself is perhaps your most generous friend. It can remind you of your brace-toothed prom photos when you’re looking for a 3 a.m. conversation starter, pleasantly remind you of your mom’s birthday or suggest Internet friendships with real-life lunch buddies.
It can tell you who left their account open in a Rush Rhees Library computer lab or gracefully suggest you carefully reconsider your crush with the subtlety of one red heart notification. It can invite you to Bourbon-burning house parties. And, according to one researcher, now it can encourage you to contract a sexually transmitted disease. Wait, what?
So argues Professor Peter Kelly, Director of Public Health in Teeside, Britain, where social networking site usage rates are at the nation’s highest and syphilis cases have mysteriously multiplied. In an article published in March, Kelly claims his staff discovered a link between Facebooking frequency and rising rates of the old-school disease; particularly among young women who reported commenting back and forth between partners online. He claims Facebook, that sneaky bastard, is a hormonal instigator.
He wrote, ‘There has been a fourfold increase in the number of syphilis cases detected with more young women being affected. I don’t get the names of people who have contracted the disease, just figures, but [my research indicated] that people had met sexual partners through these sites. Social networking is making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex.”
Or maybe not. Indeed, Kelly’s claims haven’t lasted very long. According to other researchers examining the rising rate of syphilis sicknesses, Kelly’s logic is inherently flawed, as he confuses correlation with causation and doesn’t isolate the real factors quite literally at play. ‘It can’t be that simple,” the other experts cried. ‘Your claims are bogus! Facebook isn’t Craigslist!”
Admittedly, it’s ridiculous to blame the social site for rising rates of syphilis (by the way, there were only 30 cases of syphilis reported in Teeside regardless, so I wouldn’t pack a chastity belt into your suitcase just yet), but I do think, regardless of his wacky claims, that Kelly does have a point about Internet overexposure.
There’s surely an intelligible reason why users shirk away from making ‘In a Relationship” status changes, why they hide their sexual preferences tab, and why they untag multiple prom photos that feature high school sweethearts. I know lots of married couples that remain surprisingly unattached on the Web. I’d call Mark Zuckerberg himself to delete some of my albums if only I knew that he’d pick up his iPhone.
So, if Kelly claims some Facebook users are becoming vulnerable to contract sexually transmitted diseases, why do so many others refuse to post any evidence of their private lives?
Whether or not Kelly intended his claim to be read through its rejection, I think the roundtable dismissal of his study proves that users know the difference between shareable and unshareable information, and that they can be held accountable for deciding when and where their friends know their bedroom business. It is clear that, even with the unbridled acceptance of 800 something friends, at the end of the day, when they slide out of their pajamas and begin to indent the sheets, they don’t want the subscribers to their newsfeed to read about private coital updates. We try to honor our partners by refraining when it really matters.
Even in the open-ended space of the World Wide Web, where Tila Tequila runs rampant across the MySpace frontier and $1.99 can earn you a 60-minute chat with Summ3R from Cal!fornia, Kelly’s study inadvertently proved that sex in private is still the sexiest kind of sex.
Titus is a member of the class of 2011.