Fear of Facebook

Police receive only 7,545 calls about Facebook this year, but right-wing press finds reasons to be f

News just in from the Daily Mail – Facebook is a hotbed of criminal activity, with 100,000 crimes "linked" to the social networking site in the past five years. "The Facebook crimewave hits 100,000 in the last five years", read the Mail's Tuesday headline.

It certainly seems a worrying statistic and, indeed, the NS has not been alone in pointing out some of the privacy fears surrounding social networking sites such as Facebook.

But dig beneath the Mail headline a little and one might feel a little less panicky. Facebook is the most visited website in the UK, attracting an estimated 25 million unique visitors this year, up from 22.7 million unique users in 2009. The police said they received 7,545 calls in some way related to Facebook this year – that's 0.03 per cent of those who used the social networking site in the UK.

The police receive millions of 999 calls a year; they get over 80,000 a year alone from people unintentionally dialling 999 on their mobile phones.

Of course, you could argue that anyone resorting to calling the police with reference to Facebook must have had pretty good reason to do so. Until you remember that just recently someone called the police about her stolen snowman. People have called the police about squirrels fighting in the back garden, birds singing too loudly on the roof and other life-threatening matters.

It's also worth noting that when it is reported that 7,545 calls were linked to Facebook, not all were people complaining about stuff that happens to them on Facebook such as obscene or aggressive messages, but also people worried about things they think might be about to happen. So the police were alerted to potential or alleged acts of terrorism, possible sudden deaths, possible frauds, possible sexual offences, hate crimes yet to come and possible firearms offences, as well as bullying and harassment.

One might argue that, with over one-third of the UK's population having used Facebook this year, it's a wonder only 7,545 mentioned Facebook when contacting the police. As a Facebook spokesperson said, while there is a correlation between the site's growing size and the number of calls to the police, there is no evidence to suggest that use of Facebook was the cause or carrier of these criminal acts, if indeed they all turned out to have warranted a 999 call in the first place.

Apart from anything else, think of how many people will have reported that one of their Facebook "friends" has gone missing.

Jason Stamper is New Statesman technology correspondent and editor of Computer Business Review.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

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Ukrainians now have more freedom of travel - but less freedom of thought

Ukraine's government is rightly concerned about Russian cyber aggression. But does that merit online censorship?

Ukrainians have sacrificed so much in their bid to be recognised as fellow Europeans. Their struggle to extricate themselves from Russian domination is written in the blood of the Euromaidan protestors and the toll of its military dead.

The slow progress of Ukraine’s emergence, into something resembling normality, passed another milestone on 17 May, when President Petro Poroshenko signed an agreement with the EU allowing for visa-free travel in 34 European countries. 

From Sunday 11 June Ukrainians with biometric passports will be able to travel in Europe and stay for 90 days within a 180 period. There are obvious economic benefits to the new agreement. Ukrainians will be free to travel and conduct business with much more efficacy. The new agreement will also reduce the insularity of Ukrainians, many of whom yearn for the cosmopolitanism they see in Western Europe. President Poroshenko was mindful of the symbolism of the agreement. He declared: "Ukraine is returning to the European family. Ukraine says a final farewell to the Soviet and Russian empire."

Perched on the periphery, Ukraine is now set to become more woven into the European mainstream. Ukrainians sense that the western door is slowly but inexorably opening, and that both recognition, and validation beckons. In this respect, it seems that there is much to celebrate.

However, as ever, Ukraine hangs uneasily in the balance between the old ways and the new. On 16 May, Poroshenko signed a decree blocking access to Russian social media websites Yandex, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. Millions of Ukrainians sign in to these websites every day. Even Poroshenko himself uses them. Five Russian TV stations are already banned in Ukraine. Poroshenko says that "Ukrainians can live without Russian networks". And it is certainly a fact that Ukrainians have responded to the decree by turning away from the Russian platforms in great numbers. Ukrainian Facebook is growing by some 35 percent a day.

In the context of Ukraine’s continuing conflict with Russia, it is perhaps understandable that the government in Kiev wishes to limit Russian trolls, together with Russian state influence and misinformation. This is certainly also the case across the whole western world, which is keenly aware of Russian cyber aggression. Nevertheless, one must ask why countries such as Britain, France and Germany continue to allow their citizens to access Russian media platforms, when Ukraine does not. 

While the new travel freedoms for Ukrainians has unleashed optimism, the latest decree has indicated something a little darker about the future. President Poroshenko would do well to consider the actions of other European governments that he so ardently wishes to emulate. Closing down social networks is usually done by authoritarian regimes like North Korea, China and Saudi Arabia. But Poroshenko advocates democracy, and in democracy there is no place for such acts. It is surely a mark of a nation’s maturity to encourage freedom of thought, as well travel.

Mohammad Zahoor is the publisher of Ukrainian newspaper The Kyiv Post.

 

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