THE power of Facebook in sustaining relationships cannot be underestimated, but it is this feature of the social networking site that is being blamed for eroding the family structure as more time is spent interacting with friends in cyber world rather than the children and spouses in the home.
Everyone it seems is getting into the Facebook action, from the precarious pre-teen to the tech-savvy grandma who wants to keep up with loved ones in other countries. Hours are spent online posting pictures, updating statuses, watching videos, engaging in ongoing commentary about life and maintaining virtual farms. It's this pre-occupation that has led to a series of stories documenting how the social utility has perpetuated social issues such as jealousy, depression and familial neglect.
Facebook has been accused of being the third party in some marriages and has led to the ultimate break-up of couples who can't seem to stay away from the virtual community. Some persons complain about their inability to maintain their spouse's attention, others become jealous at the discovery that their wife or husband has befriended an ex and some grow suspicious at their partner's unwillingness to add them to their friend list or to even acknowledge that they are in a relationship or married.
An addiction to the social network has also been blamed for endangering the family structure and by extension has resulted in the loss of lives.
Earlier this year, 34-year-old Shannon Johnson of Colorado, United States (USA), confessed to police that she was busy on Facebook when her one-year-old son drowned in a bathtub. The mother said, according to an ABC news report, that she was in her living room checking on her friends' statuses, playing Cafe World, and sharing videos while her child drowned.
And in October last year, the AFP reported that a Florida, USA woman, angry because her baby's crying was interrupting her game of Farmville on Facebook, pleaded guilty to murder after shaking the infant to death.
Alexandra V Tobias, 22, of Jacksonville, entered the plea in the January death of three-month-old Dylan Lee Edmondson.
Tobias told investigators she became angry because her baby was crying while she was playing FarmVille.
She said she shook the baby, smoked a cigarette, and then shook him again and that the infant may have hit his head during the shaking.
It's the place where people do everything — from announcing divorces to announcing and carrying out suicides — and just last week, research conducted by an influential doctors group in the US revealed that Facebook could lead to depression in children who obsessed over the online site.
"There are unique aspects of Facebook that can make it a particularly tough social landscape to navigate for kids already dealing with poor self-esteem," said Dr Gwenn O'Keeffe, a Boston-area paediatrician and lead author of new American Academy of Paediatrics social media guidelines.
The paediatrician said the fact that the social website provides a skewed view of what's happening could be more painful than sitting alone in a crowded school cafeteria and other real-life encounters that can make kids feel down.
"With in-your-face friends' tallies, status updates and photos of happy-looking people having great times, Facebook pages can make some kids feel even worse if they think they don't measure up," he said.
Moms admit to Facebook neglect
The accessibility to Internet and the proliferation of smart phones here in Jamaica has made it easy for the technologically inclined to spend hours on Facebook. Mother of one 27-year-old Megan Wallace understands why it is easy for individuals to get hooked and admits that she sometimes catches herself spending her already rationed time on the website instead of with her two-year-old daughter.
"I usually log on when I get home from work and sometimes I will be there sending messages back and forth with my friends instead of taking care of her," said Wallace.
The mother said she foregoes cooking, cleaning or going to the bathroom at times so she can talk to her friends online.
Another mom, Patrice, who has a five-year-old son, admitted that sometimes she gets so engrossed that she forgets her son.
"I'll get home from work with the plan to relax a bit before dinner, then before you know it it's 9:00 pm and my son is sprawled on the couch, still in school uniform and having gone without supper," she admitted. "I check Facebook on my phone, as soon as I wake up, as soon as I get to work..."
She told All Woman about a friend of hers who was "even worse", and who played Farmville from dawn to dusk, allowing her husband to fully care for their two-year-old.
"The house is always dirty, the husband is always miserable, the child is neglected — now that's what you call obsession!" Patrice said.
Pastor and trained counsellor Reverend Dr Paul Gardner believes that like drugs and sex, some have developed an obsession with the social network to the point that they need psychological help to overcome their addiction.
"When people are compulsively preoccupied, then what happens is that it means that other things, other issues, other relationships are sidelined and a compulsive behaviour distorts normal relationships," he said.
He said that in some relationships Facebook "presents a clear and present danger" because the preoccupation with the social website leads to relationship problems such as jealousy.
"Compulsive behaviour distorts normal relationships and so what you find in terms of family is that you might find one party becoming distrustful of the other, because his/her time is being invested into something else," he said.
Late last year Rev Cedric Miller of the Living Word Christian Fellowship in New Jersey, USA, asked his congregation to delete their Facebook accounts when in just six months, 20 couples from the church allegedly ran into marital difficulties after spouses connected with their exes on Facebook.
"What happens is someone from yesterday surfaces, it leads to conversations, and there have been physical meet-ups. The temptation is just too great," Miller told the Associated Press.
While the request was not mandatory for the entire congregation, the pastor said it was for at least 50 married church leaders who would be asked to resign from their positions if they did not follow through with this demand. The pastor said he too would have been deleting his Facebook account which he used to keep in touch with his six children.
Rev Dr Gardener, who has a Facebook account, believes the website can also be used to improve relationships, especially when spouses are open about their activities online.
"When it becomes transparent and let's say the couples are both on Facebook, then you don't have a problem there. Where you have problems is where it is not transparent and where the time that used to be spent with each other is now being spent with Facebook, so it's a deprivation of that time that creates the problem," he said.
Like any other addiction, he believes those addicted to the social website need professional help to overcome this addiction. This, he believes, is crucial if the individual is to live a normal life.
"When you have an obsession, it prevents you from thinking and behaving rationally," he said.