Have we, in our negligence, poked a dragon?

By Baylee VerSteeg | Multimedia Journalist

Two weeks ago, as I casually scrolled through my Facebook feed during breakfast, I received a notification that a guy I had dated for one month six years ago poked me. I blinked at it, startling my roommates as I blurted aloud the squirming questions moving around in my head: What does it mean? Am I flirting with him if I poke back? What is the point of poking this guy back, especially given that it is highly unlikely that I will ever see him again? The conversation my roommates and I had was a fun one, of course, but it brought to mind the more modern issues our society faces under the shadow of the Facebook giant.

Facebook poking is a relic from a time when Facebook was a relevant and common form of communication for our generation. While most of us were in middle school, it was just a fun way to get in touch with people after school. We all remember the embarrassing statuses and humiliating photos. There was a feeling of kinship when we saw which friends clicked “become a fan” when the Stride Gum page popped up. Facebook was a fake world and the things that happened on it didn’t matter. Poking fell in line well with this ancient form of Facebook. It was communication for the sake of communication. Nothing was really being passed from one person to the other besides either a pleasant “thinking of you!” or a subtle flirty wink. Facebook poking, Farmville and the ability to share pieces of your life with friends and family were all facets of an idealized, online world that was nothing more than simple, harmless fun.

Still, there is no in-person reality in which walking up to someone you haven’t spoken to for months, poking him, and running away without a word would be considered socially acceptable. However, Facebook offers that possibility with poking, albeit in a way that is admittedly less invasive. It would also be appallingly weird to hand that acquaintance in Econ a photo album of selfies. Yet, Facebook greets all of your friends with a photo album of selfies the moment they log on. Likewise, engaging in a heated political debate with your great-aunt’s stepson at the bi-annual family reunion would generally be frowned upon. However, Facebook offers a platform for that same mutated form of polarized communication.

We are now years beyond those glorified days where social media was more or less regarded to be innocent. While it appears that Facebook itself does not act on evil intent, negligent behavior and ambition have lead the company to bite off more than it can chew.

The site has offered an indiscriminate platform for speech, where murder and suicide can be broadcasted live to hundreds of unsuspecting eyes. Younger generations of Americans evacuate the site for newer forms of social media that remain more distant from the tendency to exploit and sell private information –– at least for now. Recently, Facebook has been involved in headline stories that highlight its role in the corruption of America’s access to information. We slowly uncover facts that reveal the horrifying implication that the blunders of Facebook are powerful enough to influence an entire election. Clearly, the trusted Facebook of our teens is gone, where the worst thing that could happen in that fake reality were unkind comments or a painful learning curve regarding online etiquette. Today, even general information can be farmed for purposes that could prove catastrophic to our nation.

As I consider the poke as a relic of a safer Internet, I wonder what it means today. Is the innocent fun that Facebook still provides worth all of the potential terrors that race alongside it?