Of all recorded cases of separation and divorce in 2009, there are a small but not insignificant number of relationship breakdowns that have cited Facebook and other social networking sites as contributing factors. Social networking sites are of course a contemporary phenomenon, allowing users to interact and interface with friends and family on a regular and daily basis and share their lives on a global platform.
In terms of dating, the sites themselves are used with increasing regularity as platforms to meet potential partners, for either fun or a long lasting union. This evolution of the social network has led to incidents of infidelity or inappropriate flirting between friends or individual who meet through the site, and this alone is a cause of conflict in relationships. The key issue is whether the social network encourages infidelity and detrimental behaviour to a relationship, or simply makes it more likely for this conduct to be seen and discovered.
Does the Social Network Encourage or Expose Infidelity?
There have been various issues of social networking sites (and Facebook in particular) being implicated in relationship issues. Reports early in 2010 surrounded a female member of the Facebook site, who was browsing the interface when she discovered her boyfriend in an intimate clinch with another woman on a profile picture. After the inevitable confrontation, he revealed that he had been leading a form of double life, and conducting two romantic relationships simultaneously. This instance is a perfect case study for the role of social network sites in modern dating, and raises the question of whether the man in question was encouraged by the remote nature of social network interaction, or simply exposed by its public displays.
There can be no doubt that online dating and social networking has encouraged infidelity and immoral acts amongst certain individuals, and it does this through various functions. The remote nature of interaction between people through the internet makes deception far easier, both visually and through narrative. For a person looking to mislead another, not having to communicate face to face creates less of a moral dilemma for the human conscience, and also makes it harder for the victim to detect lies and untruths. It is also easier to presume that a relationship conceived online is casual and short term, as this is often not discussed and therefore suits the nature of online Casanova’s interested only in one off liaisons and an ultimately physical relationship.
While the advent of online interaction therefore makes deception and infidelity both more attractive and easier, it only does so amongst like minded individuals who are inclined to immoral conduct in the first instance. The advent of social networking has therefore become victim itself to the manipulations of those who use it, which is an inevitable consequence where its members create the content and theme of a website. So, though it undoubtedly provides a platform for potential adulterers to meet and flirt with potential partners remotely, its mere existence is not the root cause for this particular type of behaviour. Without the social network, people would merely find another method of remote or electronic communication.
A Contrary Nature
The nature of the social network is contrary, as some would suggest that although communication is remote, it is often particularly public and accessible by a range of visitors to the site. Even where profiles and interactions are made private, on the Facebook website they can be still viewed by associated friends and relatives. This has put forward an argument that the social network actually exposes more cases of infidelity and adultery than it creates, and that it does nothing more than help maintain transparency and highlight instances of cheating that would have occurred anyway through different mediums or circumstances.
Further points in defence of the social network are selected instances where photographs and videos have been known to expose inappropriate behaviour. Although the pictures are uploaded and displayed through the social network medium, they were taken at another place and an entirely different junction in time. Therefore, the acts being portrayed in these pictures have taken place without the influence of any online or networking influence, and such conduct is the result of a conscious decision only. The social network in this case acts as a visual display of information, and while some would question the moral virtues of uploading such pictures, the decision to do so is at the discretion of the individual users and their conscience.
Overall, it seems particularly unfair to cite social networking and affiliate sites for the failure of relationships and marital unions. Though it does provide remote and instant interaction with others, it is also a fairly public and uncensored domain, so does not provide the full and requisite discretion that some members anticipate. Also, the site is in effect an equipped canvas on which its members can create their own patterns and content, and simply acts as a single online interface where people can congregate, chat and socialize. Everything that goes into the site and that the site is utilized for is user generated and required, and the responsibility for such content and applications remains with the site members. With this in mind, it would appear that the social network has in fact become an excuse for the misbehaving few, who seek to absolve themselves of any burden of responsibility in the case of infidelity.